The curtain almost couldn’t rise this evening: the actress playing Ariel didn’t arrive, a crisis with the potential to sink the show. But Rachel Amber, the student playing a female Prospero, was accompanied by a friend, Chloe Price, who came intending only to watch. And Rachel pointed out to the drama teacher, Mr. Keat, that Chloe could pinch-hit the Ariel role until the regular actress’ arrival.
Chloe, who is definitely one of those let’s-fade-into-the-walls-when-confronted-with-an-outside-the-box-situation teenagers, was aghast at the idea; only a direct plea from Rachel --- who has become an extremely close friend --- convinced Chloe to very reluctantly accept the part.
This is the scenario in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, an Xbox game that actually (for the benefit of video game sceptics) features an interesting storyline with some really, really nice moments in the narrative. It’s one of those moments I want to look at today.
(I happen to like this game a lot --- just because it’s a video game doesn’t mean the writing has to be simplistic and the characters mere cardboard caricatures --- so I’ve written about it before. You can read those posts here and here if you’re interested).
The moment I want to examine is this: it’s early in the play --- Act 1, Scene 2 --- and Ariel wants her release from indentured servitude to Prospero. The scene has gone more or less according to Will to this point, but when Chloe gives Ariel’s line about desiring freedom, Rachel abruptly veers waaaay off course into the Land of Complete Improvisation:
Rachel: Thy… liberty? Nay! This most of all I will not grant!
Chloe: (confused, thinking) That’s not her line… is it? What’s going on? (Aloud, stumbling as she tries to stay in character while dragging things back on track) But thou assured my freedom… didn’t thou?
Rachel: I never said how dearly I hold thee; my habit’s been to keep my soul well-draped. (pause) Most loyal spirit… companion and friend… is acting in my service not replete with excitement, amusement, and delight?
Chloe: (slowly, but with increasing confidence as she begins to understand what’s going on) Of course, mistress… most truly, it is so.
(Cut to backstage)
Caliban: (urgently, to the director) Mr. Keat! They’re way off script!
Mr. Keat: (excitedly) Shh! It’s… magical!
(Cut to closeup of Rachel and Chloe)
Rachel: Then why, I pray you, wish you to be free?
Chloe: Excitement’s… a mere... counterfeit of bliss. These storms and these adventures? I prefer… to know… thou still cared for my… plainest self.
Rachel: (stamps her staff) I have thee in my grasp; I will not bend! I will not see thee flying forth alone! The envy would be more than I could bear.
Chloe: So come with me! Is that not in thy pow’r?
Rachel: Spirit, take my hands, most faithful friend. (kneels) For but a little longer I beseech: continue in thy service to my schemes. And when they are complete, I swear to thee… we shall fly beyond this isle, the corners of this world our mere prologue. I’ll seek to make thy happiness so great that e’en the name of liberty’s forgot. What say’st thou to my most hopeful wish?
(Cut to long shot from the rear of the theatre of the two on stage. A voice in the crowd calls out, “Say yes!”)
(Cut to closeup of Rachel and Chloe)
Chloe: (smiling) Yes.
Rachel (to applause as the audience reacts) I am most pleased. (Getting back to business --- and on script --- as she stamps her staff again) Your duty, done for now. So go forth hence with haste. I’ve work to do. (It is a dismissal. Chloe turns and, with enormous relief, heads offstage, where she is met by Mr. Keat)
Mr. Keat: Well done. An admirable effort. And the ending! Absolutely transformative. I am… humbled.
Chloe: No problem. (Thinks) What the hell just happened? Was that real?
Sure was, Chloe. And we can tell that you understand what occurred as well as we do: under the guise of Will’s Prospero, Rachel has, very publicly, declared what she wants in her relationship with you. Now, the vast majority of the audience will be blissfully unaware Rachel has gone majorly off script to make her heartfelt declaration --- you’d have to be intimately familiar with the script to realize that, and let’s face it, this is The Tempest. By Shakespeare. How many people are intimately familiar with it? Yep, that’s right: damned few. I don’t know if Rachel actually planned this out in advance when she knew Chloe would be assuming the role. I’m guessing not: based on what I know of human nature in general, and Rachel’s character in particular, I think it was a spur-of-the-moment thing. But that doesn’t make it any less important or meaningful. (And, as completely fabricated Shakespearean-style dialogue, it was well done, too. You can check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYF9KkTN5Sg and go to about 1:54:15 in the timeline. The soundtrack complements the action well: a soft piano melody that perfectly captures the wistful nature of the moment.)
So the question is, why should we as viewers/readers care? Well, simply because of its instructive qualities for storytellers: it’s a quite lovely, tender moment in a narrative, marking an important milestone in the development of the relationship between two characters. And it’s done in a very clever, creative way. There’s a sweetly earnest simplicity to it that I find compelling. Will has a different character say to another later in the same play, “I would not wish any companion in the world but you,” but it’s not quite the same as what Rachel does for Chloe. I mean, how often does one character declare their feelings for another in so public and yet simultaneously so private a fashion?
‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.
(Still Will, different play.)