The Tempest and non-violent communication

piccolo teatro milano giorgio strehler

Now does my project gather to a head:
My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time
Goes upright with his carriage. How’s the day?

On the sixth hour; at which time, my lord,
You said our work should cease.

I did say so,
When first I raised the tempest. Say, my spirit,
How fares the king and’s followers?

Confined together
In the same fashion as you gave in charge,
Just as you left them; all prisoners, sir,
In the line-grove which weather-fends your cell;
They cannot budge till your release. The king,
His brother and yours, abide all three distracted
And the remainder mourning over them,
Brimful of sorrow and dismay; but chiefly
Him that you term’d, sir, ‘The good old lord Gonzalo;’
His tears run down his beard, like winter’s drops
From eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works ’em
That if you now beheld them, your affections
Would become tender.

Dost thou think so, spirit?

Mine would, sir, were I human.

And mine shall.
Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply,
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to the quick,
Yet with my nobler reason ‘gaitist my fury
Do I take part: the rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent,
The sole drift of my purpose doth extend
Not a frown further. Go release them, Ariel:
My charms I’ll break, their senses I’ll restore,
And they shall be themselves.

I’ll fetch them, sir.


Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds,
And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck’d up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth
By my so potent art. But this rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.


Now my charms are all o’erthrown,
And what strength I have’s mine own,
Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon’d be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

And with this extraordinary monologue, about forgiveness, liberation, after a life of abuse suffered, exiled from his kingdom, the Duchy of Milan, Prospero breaks the magic art he learnt to wield on the island and which helped him to do justice, absolves his executioners, frees the spirits of Nature of Good (Ariel) and Evil (Caliban, who, however, promises to behave in a righteous and honest manner) and asks for indulgence from us, the reading and viewing public.
I wanted to talk about Non-Violent Communication, but I did not want to resort to the usual theories written (also by me) on empathy, in this very hot July and August, where we are on a floating island ‘of the same stuff that dreams are made of’, but to try to give an original slant to these short lines of mine.
Non-violent communication does not mean being in Zen, letting everything pass, letting things slide: not even ‘turning the other cheek’. It is, learning from Prospero, to help oneself with the magic arts of words to do oneself justice: it means to metaphorically undermine – the reasons, – and the continual contradiction of the other. That is why when Prospero restores reason to those who usurped him in the role, he gives nothing but a new awareness, in his unravelling, which comes, however, slowly ‘Their intelligence begins to mount’, like the tide. It takes time and patience, first the usurpers were un-sentient, and only after the shipwreck, having lost all reference, having been at the mercy of the elements, were they able to understand the damage done, but after Prospero who is ahead of everyone in reason and awareness.
In non-violent communication, in the first passage the observed facts are the main actors; what happened, what did not happen. Prospero betrayed, defrauded of his kingdom, thrown onto an island with his daughter, causes the storm that will shipwreck his traitors and their relatives on that very land. Tired of revenge, he decides to appease himself and grant forgiveness’.
Now let us use a trivial example, a friendship between two people: one of them complains of being neglected by the other, of course perception plays a role, but it can distort events. Fact-checking, that is, observation, dictates that one goes to what’s app to count the messages, the occasions of encounters generated by one and the other, but more, the quality of the messages, the thought behind each sending. Sometimes there is confirmation that one has been overlooked, sometimes, one discovers completely opposite realities. So, non-violent communication is not a simple technique of ‘volemosse ‘bene bene, of the politically correct’. No, far from it, it is an exercise that requires time, courage and assertiveness: Prospero cannot pretend that he has not been despoiled of his kingdom and that his daughter Miranda was almost raped by Caliban. The facts are there: on the table, between the lines in the words. What then works the ‘miracle of change’ when the raw truth, that truth that exists in dreams, ‘of which we are made of the same substance’? Time, the suspension of judgement on both sides, reflection, another space-time dimension. No longer that of the indicative mode, but that of the subjunctive, the world of nostalgia and desire, and of the octative, that Greek mode that was there to speak of desires of how the matter might have gone (the dream) and how to wish to put things back on track (the future dreams). In the storm Prospero creates bonds, imprisons, keeps to himself, just long enough for his and everyone else’s final liberation, on his island, his new kingdom: the island of pause, far from the historical events that are in the meantime turning Europe upside down; we do not even know topographically where this unknown island is.

Yet it is not John Donne’s island, ‘no man is an island’, but a world inhabited by all the characters necessary to develop the story, including the forces of nature: and so how can one be open to assertiveness and forgiveness, because no one will give Prospero back the twelve years he spent away from the Duchy of Milan?
The second step of non-violent communication is ‘the expression of one’s emotions, of one’s state of being: “That, if you saw them now, You would have tenderness of them. Says Ariel, and Prospero replies, Do you think so, spirit?” And Ariel: “I would if I were human,” And the magician: “Then I will be. Thou who art but air, Thou art as if touched with a sense, A sorrow for their afflictions, And I, who am of the same kind, Who suffer the same passions, Shall I not, man, Move more than thou? Deeply with their blows they have lacerated me, but against my fury I side with the noblest reason. The works of virtue are rarer…” Ariel and Prospero communicate with each other in a non-violent way, they ask each other questions, both of them beyond their emotions, they make explicit, as in the third point of non-violent communication, their needs respecting each other: Ariel is made of air and wants freedom: Prospero desires a return to his homeland. But the dialogue between them is airy, not guilt-ridden, reflective; there is no anger in Prospero’s words nor rancour in those of Ariel who has faithfully served the magician all this time. The consequence of this lightness between the parties, after the explication of one’s needs, are the final demands, thus Ariel demands freedom and Prospero indulgence for having taken revenge, having come to the conclusion that reason and forgiveness are worth far more to his well-being than revenge. The expression of one’s final needs is the fourth step of non-violent communication.
The words that invite one to open windows and not to build walls are to be found in the very last lines of Prospero’s dialogue: it speaks of generosity and of an initial project that was ‘to give pleasure’. Even though it may not have worked out completely, Prospero asks us not only for emotional empathy, with a label, he is sad, happy, angry, no, an epistemological empathy, of a deeper understanding of the will of the act: he wanted to make us readers, spectators, and inhabitants of the island happy.
He takes a back seat to his daughter, but even this is a path, because he was jealous of her before, and only at the end does he finally let her go free to fall in love on her own path: he declares himself old and tired, and knows that he will only be able to leave the stormy place if we are deeply ‘convinced’ by his reasons, thinking that a duke, a father, a magician must necessarily be an ungrateful despot. By breaking the magic wand, we let go of prejudices. Intelligent Nonviolent Communication does not want stereotypes, but it breaks them down: and Shakespeare has the courage to undermine a huge one, in The Tempest: ‘Hell is empty, the devils are all here’. Inside us, with us, and it is we who must find the magical arts as long as we need them to make peace with them, with ourselves, embracing forgiveness as the first solution. With many devils it will be possible, by using the right words, for example not saying “you are a ‘feckless’ but rather “the last few jobs have been lacking”, “your brother is better than you” but rather “you and your brother are profoundly different”, and in everyday life instead of saying “you are not listening to me” even if true, “I am observing that you are using your mobile phone right now while I am talking”. Let’s also take into account that with other devils non-violent communication will be impossible, but that does not mean hell has to be reopened, just stay away from it.
The Tempest is the testament that Shakespeare leaves us, his last work before disappearing into the island: it reminds us that our passage is ephemeral, ‘We are made of the same substance as dreams, and in the space and time of a dream is gathered our brief life’, in the finale of Act IV.
Let us not linger in resentment, let us look at the facts, let us ask for justice, let us express our needs, let us speak with kindness and lightness, as Ariel teaches Prospero.

Maria Giulia Marini

Epidemiologist and counselor in transactional analysis, thirty years of professional life in health care. I have a classic humanistic background, including the knowledge of Ancient Greek and Latin, which opened me to study languages and arts, becoming an Art Coach. I followed afterward scientific academic studies, in clinical pharmacology with an academic specialization in Epidemiology (University of Milan and Pavia). Past international experiences at the Harvard Medical School and in a pharma company at Mainz in Germany. Currently Director of Innovation in the Health Care Area of Fondazione ISTUD a center for educational and social and health care research. I'm serving as president of EUNAMES- European Narrative Medicine Society, on the board of Italian Society of Narrative Medicine, a tenured professor of Narrative Medicine at La Sapienza, Roma, and teaching narrative medicine in other universities and institutions at a national and international level. In 2016 I was a referee for the World Health Organization- Europen for “Narrative Method of Research in Public Health.” Writer of the books; “Narrative medicine: Bridging the gap between Evidence-Based care and Medical Humanities,” and "Languages of care in Narrative Medicine" edited with Springer, and since 2021 main editor for Springer of the new series "New Paradigms in Health Care."

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