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Vocabulary in The Tempest

Vocabulary Examples in The Tempest:

Act I - Scene I

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"furlongs..."   (Act I - Scene I)

A “furlong” is a unit of distance that is equal to 220 yards, or about 201 meters. Gonzalo means that he would give anything to be on dry land when he dies, even though he believes that his fate ultimately rests with the “wills above.”

"his complexion is perfect(25) gallows..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Since Gonzalo comments on the Boatswain’s “complexion,” he is referring to the man’s skin and any marks that may be present. A birthmark in a certain position was believed to predict a person's death—for instance through drowning. A well-known proverb in Shakespeare's time was, “He that is born to be hanged will never be drowned.” “Gallows” were structures that were used for hanging criminals. Gonzalo’s comment might also suggest that the Boatswain looks like he was born to be a criminal, and thus, to have a criminal’s death by hanging rather than drowning.

"Boatswain!..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Pronounced “bo-sun,” this word refers to a position on a boat or ship. Boatswains are in charge of maintaining the hull of the ship and all of the equipment related to it.

"red plague..."   (Act I - Scene II)

The “red plague” is another term for smallpox, a human disease that is characterized by skin loss, pustules, and scars. It is believed to have been eradicated globally by widespread vaccination in the 20th century. Caliban invokes this disease here to emphasize his hatred of Prospero and the cruel and painful death he wishes on him.

"cell..."   (Act I - Scene II)

While “cell” today might bring to mind an image of a prison cell, in this context a cell is a small dwelling or shack. Prospero’s humble dwelling immediately reveals that he is not a person of great wealth.

"[to Sebastian] Fie, what a spendthrift is he of his tongue!..."   (Act II - Scene I)

A “spendthrift” is a person who spends money profusely or wastefully. To say that Gonzalo is a spendthrift “of his tongue” is to say that he talks too much. Antonio and Sebastian mock Gonzalo for his optimistic attempts to comfort Alonso, which further characterizes Gonzalo as friendly and compassionate in comparison to Antonio and Sebastian.

"Or as ’twere perfumed by a fen...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Antonio and Sebastian continue to mock Gonzalo and Adrian throughout this passage by either making puns or misrepresenting the words spoken. In this case, Antonio and Sebastian contradict Gonzalo and Adrian’s observation that this island is lovely, but suggesting that the air is foul as if it smelled like a “fen,” or swamp.

"Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come In yours and my discharge...."   (Act II - Scene I)

Antonio’s “what’s past is prologue” translates to the idea that what has occurred sets the scene for the main action or details that are “to come.” More importantly, Antonio believes that he and Sebastian can control the events that will unfold. He attempts to persuade Sebastian to murder his sleeping father, Alonso, the King of Naples, so that Sebastian can take the kingship.

"Do you put tricks upon's with savages and men of Ind, ha?..."   (Act II - Scene II)

“Men of Ind” in this context means men of the Indies, though Stephano does not specify whether he means the East or West Indies. Stephano’s line here echoes the prejudiced colonial assumption that all native populations were “savage” and uncivilized in comparison to the Europeans.

"gaberdine..."   (Act II - Scene II)

A “gaberdine,” also spelled “gabardine,” is a long, loose frock made of a coarse material, similar to a cloak. Trinculo decides to hide under Caliban’s gaberdine for shelter.

"All the infections that the sun sucks up From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall, and make him By inch-meal disease! ..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Having been enslaved by Prospero on the island that is supposedly his inheritance, Caliban is portrayed as an angry character. Here Caliban boldly expresses his hatred towards Prospero by cursing him, hoping that all possible infections from “bogs, fens, flats,” or, in other words, wet muddy grounds and swampy areas will cause Prospero to rot away “inch-meal” or little by little.

"Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows...."   (Act II - Scene II)

Trinculo, realizing that he has stumbled upon a man instead of what he initially thought was a fish, decides to crawl into the man’s cloak as a form of shelter from the storm and rain. His statement expresses the idea that in miserable or terrible situations, one will meet bizarre people or “strange bedfellows.”

"murrain..."   (Act III - Scene II)

A “murrain” refers to a plague or infectious disease, or a death by such. Ariel claims that Caliban lies, but because Ariel is invisible, Caliban and Stephano think that Trinculo has spoken. Trinculo exclaims that he did not accuse anyone of lying, and blames this confrontation on the wine.

"tabour..."   (Act III - Scene II)

“Tabour” or “tabor” is the earlier name of the drum. It is a small kind of drum, typically used to accompany a pipe or fife that is played by the same person.

"nonpareil..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Caliban says that Prospero calls his own daughter a “nonpareil.” Since Miranda’s beauty was just mentioned in the previous sentence, then “nonpareil” refers to her beauty, which is to say that she is so beautiful that no one else can compare to her. Such language not only provides us with more information about Miranda, it also proves to help convince Stephano to aid Caliban with the promise of power and a beautiful maiden.

"wezand..."   (Act III - Scene II)

This is an archaic spelling of the word “weasand,” which, in turn, is an archaic word from Middle English that means “throat” or “gullet.” Caliban is suggesting that another way to kill Prospero is to cut his throat.

"viands..."   (Act III - Scene III)

“Viands” are victuals or provisions. Even though the “natives” have vanished, they have left behind their banquet of food.

"Dewlapped..."   (Act III - Scene III)

A “dewlap” is the fold of loose skin which hangs from the throat of cattle. The term can also be used to describe this feature in other animals, or humans.

"A living drollery...."   (Act III - Scene III)

By “a living drollery,” Sebastian means that the site is a very vivid, odd, and humorous thing, almost like a living puppet show. His surprise at seeing such a display causes him to reflect on whether or not other myths are believable, such as the existence of unicorns or a phoenix.

"dowl..."   (Act III - Scene III)

A “dowl” is one of the fibers of a feather. Ariel essentially implies that the men’s swords are useless, and that they would be better off slashing them at empty air than attempting to cut even one “dowl” from his “plume.”

"with a quaint device..."   (Act III - Scene III)

The stage action here refers to a “quaint device” that makes the banquet disappear. Since the adjective “quaint” means of skillful or elegant design, then readers can understand that the banquet likely disappears in a magical flourish, leaving the men baffled that it has suddenly left their sight.

"hoodwink..."   (Act IV)

To “hoodwink” is to conceal or deceive by false appearance. Since Caliban is going to show them to Prospero’s cell, he assures Trinculo that this “prize” will make them forget how smelly they are at the moment.

"The white cold virgin snow upon my heart Abates the ardour of my liver...."   (Act IV)

Ferdinand responds to Prospero’s command by saying how he will respect Prospero’s wishes and that his love for Miranda is so deep that it keeps him from acting out any lustful behavior. The reason why Ferdinand refers to “the ardour of [his] liver” is that in Shakespeare’s time, many organs were associated with emotions. In this case, the liver is the physical home of desire.

"With foreheads villanous low..."   (Act IV)

Caliban worries that should he and his fellow conspirators be found out, Prospero will transform them into horrible things. The idea of being turned into an ape with a very low forehead, even a villainous one, reveals a belief at the time that physical appearance equated to moral character. Therefore, a large, low, ape-like forehead would have not only been ugly, but it would also have been sign of evil. This belief persisted into the 19th century with the advent of the pseudoscience phrenology, which claimed character could be determined by skull shape. No evidence supports any claims that physical appearance is a manifestation of internal character.

"Be more abstemious..."   (Act IV)

When Prospero tells Ferdinand to be more abstemious (meaning “showing restraint”), he says that Ferdinand should be even more sincere with his oaths and restrained in his behavior until he has properly married Miranda.

"We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life(175) Is rounded with a sleep...."   (Act IV)

Prospero’s metaphor refers to the pageant he has produced on the island using his knowledge of magic. He believes that in the end everything will “dissolve” into nothingness. After all, people are the “stuff” or substance that dreams are “made on,” or build of. “Little” suggests that people’s lives are insignificant, and ultimately their lives are “rounded,” or completed, by sleep; these words briefly touch on human mortality.

"The rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance...."   (Act V)

Prospero has decided to be more sympathetic, and despite the hurt he feels for Antonio’s past transgressions, this line represents his reasoning that it is better to be virtuous than vengeful. The use of “rarer” here also has a double meaning. While it can refer to something happening less frequently, the word “rare” can also mean something of value or quality. Therefore, acting with compassion and forgiveness is a more important part of being human.

"Why, that's my dainty Ariel! I shall miss thee, But yet thou shalt have freedom..."   (Act V)

Prospero finally sets Ariel free with these words. Though certain earlier scenes in the play may suggest that the relationship between Prospero and Ariel could be interpreted as a form of slavery, Prospero’s word choice here clearly shows that the relationship is very different from the hate-filled one between Prospero and Caliban. Prosper calls Ariel a “dainty,” or excellent, spirit and admits that he will miss Ariel.

"How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world That has such people in't!..."   (Act V)

Miranda’s first impression of humankind reflects her overwhelming innocence that has resulted from being stranded on the island for twelve years with only Prospero and Caliban. Miranda calls the men from the shipwreck “beauteous,” showing her shallow knowledge of humankind. At the same time, seeing other humans has created a “brave new world” in her mind. “Brave” in this context refers to “fine,” “noble,” and “splendid.”

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