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Our revels now are ended is the name given to the dialogue in William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest. These lines are spoken by the character Prospero in Act 4, Scene 1. Prospero, the exiled Duke of Milan and a powerful magician speaks these words as he reflects on the ephemeral and illusory nature of human existence. The Tempest is one of William Shakespeare’s last plays, believed to have been written around 1610-1611. It is classified as a tragicomedy or romance and is unique for its fantastical elements. In these lines, Prospero likens the world to a temporary spectacle, with everything ultimately dissolving and fading away, much like a dream.
About the Author
Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, on 23rd April 1564, William Shakespeare is widely regarded as one of the greatest playwrights and poets in the English language. Initially, Shakespeare became a key figure in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, a popular playing company, and later in the King’s Men after the company received royal patronage. Shakespeare’s works include iconic plays such as Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear, and Romeo and Juliet, among many others. His plays explore complex themes of love, power, jealousy, ambition, and the human condition. In addition to his plays, he wrote a collection of 154 sonnets, which are celebrated for their poetic beauty and exploration of love and time. The First Folio, a compilation of his plays was published by his colleagues in 1623 and preserved many of his works
This section consists of twelve lines that are written in the form of a dialogue verbalised by Prospero.
Lines 1- 3
Our revels now are ended. These our actors, As I foretold you, were all spirits and Are melted into air, into thin air:
The speaker here, Prospero, begins by stating that the revelries or the festivities are now over. He refers to the other characters in the play and says that they are all supernatural beings, as he has previously told his listeners. Prospero goes on to say that all these spirits have not melted into thin air.
As Prospero starts by saying that the revelries are over, we can see from this how nothing lasts forever, not even happiness. Prospero goes on to draw the audience away from the play and make them conscious about the fact that all of them are not real, but actors of a play. And the spirits, which are nothing but illusory, will all vanish into thin air.
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision, The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Prospero compares the impermanence of things to the illusionary nature of vision, which is without any base. He goes on to list grand buildings such as cloud-capped towers, palaces, temples, and even the Earth itself to remark how none of them will last forever.
The use of the phrase “baseless fabric of vision” indicates a magical element or quality that things seem to have. This shows how things that might exist today might be removed from existence in the future. Prospero also refers to grand and impressive structures to suggest how even monumental things, including this world, have an end.
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.
Prospero goes on to say that everything that the world possesses or inherits shall dissolve eventually. Just like this play, or performance that shall fade after a time, the entire world will fade away, even a wisp of cloud (rack). Prospero next refers to the entirety of mankind and remarks that all of us are made of the same substance as dreams, implying the fleeting and insubstantial nature of both humans and dreams. Lastly, Prospero says that human life is “little” or brief and it concludes with sleep, which metaphorically represents death.
Here, Prospero mentions the creations of nature, such as a wisp of cloud, and the humans to remark how even natural entities don’t have an immortal existence. He compares the existence of a cloud to a performance that will eventually end, as if both of them have an equal duration of existence. Prospero lastly refers to human life itself to comment on how we are like our dreams, fleeting and transient and our lives shall end with death.