Though it is considered one of Shakespeare’s shortest plays, the language of The Tempest is often lyrical.
This play is considered the most poetic and magical of Shakespeare’s lyrical drama.
The Tempest is primarily in flowing blank verse.
The various songs in The Tempest provide much of this lyric feeling as well as being an important element of the plot. Many of the lyrics are justly famous as poems evoking different insights about life, beauty, and death.
In Act 1, scene 2 of The Tempest, Ariel, whose spirit’s nature allows him to move freely and transform himself, enters with Ferdinand. Ariel is invisible and he is playing and singing.
Come unto these yellow sands,
And then take hands;
Curtsied when you have and kissed-
The wild waves whist-
Foot it featly here and there,
And, sweet sprites, bear
The burden. Hark, hark
Later on, Ariel sings:
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.
In Act 1, scene 2 of The Tempest, the “airy spirit” Ariel is ordered by Prospero to lead the shipwrecked Ferdinand to him. He does this by being invisible. Ariel, Prospero diligent servant, is not a human. Ariel is singing this lyric before Alonso’s son, Ferdinand. As Ferdinand “bewaits what he assumes is his father’s death by drowning, he hears strange haunting music.”
This music is called the song of death and metamorphosis. Shakespeare is using this lyric to describe the metamorphosis of the dead person into “something rich and strange” (1.2.405). He compares this metamorphosis to something beautiful. His bones are corals and his eyes are pearls and nothing of him changes.
The two songs, “Come unto These yellow Sands” and “Full fathom five thy father lies” are set into juxtaposition to enhance their dramatic unity within the context of the play.”
We observe that both songs assist the dramatic action of the play by ushering Ferdinand onto the shore of the island for the first time and by simultaneously calming the tempest at sea and Ferdinand’s grief over his supposedly drowned father.
In Act 5, scene 1 of The Tempest, Prospero tells Ariel that he will soon be free and that he will miss him. Let us not forget that The Tempest is about freedom. In this scene, Ariel is anticipating his freedom with this little airy song while he is helping Prospero dress.
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.
Ariel was imprisoned by the witch Sycorax in a cloven pine. On the death of Sycorax, Ariel became the slave of Caliban. He has been tortured and abused by Sycorax and Caliban. Consequently, Ariel is yearning for freedom. And in this lyric, he shows how delighted he is by this merry free life which is going to be his from now on.
Besides, Prospero asks Ariel to free him to travel back to
The Tempest is the play which has more songs than any other Shakespearean play. Shakespeare and most of his audience also knew Ovid’s Metamorphoses which was written in Latin but Arthur Golding translated it in English. The "mesmerizing power of music" in The Tempest is analogous to that of the Orpheus myth in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
In other words, the translation of The Metamorphosis by Arthur Golding has left a vivid impression on Shakespeare.
Indeed, Shakespeare has used the Ovidian’s metamorphic imagery in the songs of the play The Tempest.