“Plummet Sound”

I was looking over the Tempest and found these two very similar lines:

“Therefore my son i’ the ooze is bedded, and
I’ll seek him deeper than e’er plummet sounded
And with him there lie mudded.”
— Alonso, 3.3.116-8

“…I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.”
— Prospero, 5.1.59-62

I’d always interpreted Prospero’s quote to mean “so deep that sound has never ‘fallen’ to that level,” with “sound” being the noun and “plummet” being the verb, but looking at Alonso’s quote it’s obvious that “sound” is a verb there. In that case, could the same be true for Prospero’s quote?

So, I looked up “plummet” in my handy Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary, and apparently, in this context, it means “a plumb-line, by which the depth of water is sounded” (source).

And then one of the entries for “sound” says it means “to search with a plummet, to try, to examine” (source).

Then I looked up “plumb-line” on Wikipedia, which lead me to this definition: “A plumb bob, or plummet, is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom, suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line, or plumb-line” (source). It looks like they were usually used to make sure lines were vertical, but in the context of these Tempest quotes, a “plummet” seems to be used as a way to measure (or “sound”) the depth of water.

So what these quotes are saying is that something (ie, Ferdinand or the book) is deeper than could ever be measured or discovered. This fits with the context of Prospero’s quote (he doesn’t want anyone to find his drowned book), but could potentially reveal an insight about Alonso: seeking Ferdinand “deeper than e’er plummet sounded” is not only very deep, but deeper than anyone has been able to go or measure. Which seems like another connotation of death to me. (The undiscover’d country, if you will!)

Of course, Prospero’s quote could always have a double meaning (and it’s likely, knowing Shakespeare) because it seems pretty ambiguous as to which (ie, plummet or sound) is the verb and which is the noun. So I’m not giving up on my literal sound-as-in-noise interpretation quite yet. Perhaps “sound” could even mean something like “voices” or “talk”—as in, “this book is buried so deep (within the sea or maybe even within Prospero’s memory) that no one will ever be able to find it (hence “plummet”) or talk about it (hence “sound”) ever again.”

Or maybe I’m reading into this too deeply.
(…..deeper than plummets sound perhaps)

But it’s very interesting that almost the same quote appears twice… and in quite different contexts, too (drowning with your son out of grief versus giving up your magic). Could one quote inform the other? Like, could there be some grief in Prospero’s relinquishing of his magic? Or going back to my idea about the death connotation of Alonso’s quote, could it be the death of Prospero’s magic?

…okay that was a reallyyy long post but maybe someone will read it and find it interesting!


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