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Role of Prospero in Play ‘Tempest’

11 Jul 2017Essay Samples

Abstract

This paper analyzes the changes Prospero went through in different stages of the play ‘Tempest’ written by William Shakespeare. The bibliography page appends sources in MLA format.

About Shakespeare

Born on April 26th 1564, William Shakespeare was a renowned playwright, poet and an actor. In the early stage of his career, he mostly produced comedies and historical plays. By the beginning of 17th century, his attention drew towards writing tragedies.

His famous plays include Hamlet, Macbeth and King Lear to name a few. He has been given the title ‘Bard of Avon’ for his remarkable contribution towards literature. He expired in the same month as of his birth i.e. April 23rd, 1616.

About the Play

The play ‘Tempest’, written by Shakespeare, was first published in 1623 in the First Folio and is categorized under comedy as well as romance. It is considered as Shakespeare’s last play.

There are up to seventeen characters in the play. The main characters in this play are: Prospero, the sorcerer and Duke of Milan; Ariel, a fairy; Miranda, Prospero’s daughter; Antonio, Prospero’s brother and usurper of Prospero’s kingship; and Caliban, Prospero’s slave and a deformed beast. The play mainly revolves around the theme of betrayal, revenge, forgiveness, regret and romance.

Summary of the Play

The play “The Tempest” is divided into five acts. The first act introduces the audience with Prospero who has created a violent windstorm (thus the name ‘tempest’), thrashing a ship carrying Antonio, Alonso, Sebastian, Ferdinand etc. Next, all other characters such as Miranda, Ariel and Caliban are introduced and Ferdinand’s and Miranda’s affection for each other being developed shown. Act II shows Sebastian and Antonia planning to kill Ansolo and likewise, Stephano and Trinculo drugging Caliban so as to persuade him to kill Prospero. Act III opens with Prospero worried for his daughter’s new discovered love but eventually is contented when he realizes Ferdinand’s pure intentions. At the same time, Ariel is busy making Caliban’s plot to murder Prospero a failure and punishing all involved in banishment of Prospero from his country. In Act IV Prospero orders Ariel to lead Prospero’s enemies towards him and promises Ariel of his freedom. Act V sees Prospero rebuking all those who exiled him, forgiving Alonso, Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban and setting Caliban free. He then announces his return to Milan and releases Ariel of slavery as well. The play ends with Prospero asking the audience for permission to return back to his home and his throne.

Analysis of Prospero’s Changing Roles

Prospero whose name means prosperity, is the dominant character in this play and depicts several roles as the play develops. As the play opens, the audience learns that Prospero is the duke of a country named Milan. However, his wicked brother Antonio expels him and his daughter from Milan and unlawfully overtakes his kingship. Thus, initially he is depicted as a helpless and pitiable being. However, when he learns magic by Gonzalo’s help, he uses his powers to control people and spirits and everything happening around him.

Thus, he turns his attention into seeking revenge against all those who banished him from his land and does everything he could to bring them to justice. He becomes a foe of Alonso and a friend of Gonzalo. With his powers, he makes Ariel and Caliban his slaves but then liberates them at the end of the play. Similarly, he punishes the wrongdoers only verbally and shows compassion and forgiveness at the end. Hence, all these factors show different elements of Prospero’s character and the changes he went through throughout the play.

Initially, he was just a powerless character when deposed by his brother. Then with the help of magic, he became a dictator of the island and forced others to be his slave. Here, one can say that he himself became a usurper as Ariel ruled the island before his arrival but then became his slave when Prospero freed him from imprisonment. Thus, it can be said that the circumstances which he went through made him selfish and naïve of others’ feelings in front of his own goals. In other words, it seemed that he had a habit of using people for his needs.

He also becomes a politician who made strategies to reclaim his position in Milan and at the same time, a judge who sentenced Caliban to slavery for his crime. Hence, one can say he took the matters into his own hands to achieve his desired level of justice.

However, as the play moves on, one also sees him as a concerned father who punishes Caliban for attempting to rape his daughter and taking on the role of matchmaker for Ferdinand and Marinda but at the same time, worrying if Ferdinand is the right person for her or not. For this reason, despite his dictatorship, his fatherly love and compassion does not go overlooked.

By the end of the play, his generous nature is also depicted, much to the audience’s surprise. With his merciless portrayal in the beginning, it was astonishing for the audience to see his soft side when the payback time came. This illustrates that in reality, he was gracious and sympathetic and only intended to make the offenders realize their sins. This is also why he didn’t wish them killed by the tempest he created. Obviously, a man needs to have a huge heart in order to forgive a person responsible for ruining his life. His kindhearted nature is also observed when he apologized to Ferdinand for inflicting severities upon him. Similarly, his act of enslaving Caliban can be seen as a way to educate him and therefore, help him in a way His sign of weakness is also noted when the once dominant Prospero turns to Ariel for help when he sees his powers losing control. Likewise, he also felt guilty for making Ariel his slave and promised him freedom from time to time. It can be stated, hence, that he was in reality, a kindhearted man who wore a mask of an autocrat in order to bring the offenders to task and regain his control over Milan.

In the end, his act of a liberator is also highlighted as he freed Ariel and Caliban and wasted his powers. This again proves that he did not intend to become an unlawful ruler like his brother but only took help of those powers to achieve his mission and disposed them of when his goals were accomplished.

To think whether Prospero was good or evil is unanswerable as he was imperfect like all human beings. He went through a number of erratic changes in his life and hence, inherited a blend of traits in his personality both good and bad. Moreover, being banished from his land and having to raise a daughter alone on an isolated island, transformed him into a stern man.

Nevertheless, if he was evil at one time, he was purely compassionate at the other varying on the context. Therefore, in-depth analysis of Prospero gives one a mirror-reflection of one’s own personality. All human beings go through such changes in their lives. Sometimes, some circumstances alter one’s nature and force him to do something he might not have desired otherwise.

However, the play also points out a vital fact: no situation, despite its severity, can alter the true personality of an individual and he is bound to demonstrate it in some stage of his life regardless of his desire of the opposite. In other words, one cannot pretend to be someone he is not for a prolonged period of time, whether he likes it or not.

All in all, Prospero goes through a number of changes in the play according to the diverse conditions; displaying several aspects of his personality: some favorable and others detestable which is the quality of all human beings.

References

Barton, Anne, ed. The Tempest (New Penguin Shakespeare Series) Penguin, New York.(1968)

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