English Literature: The Tempest themes


Loss & Restoration

Prospero's attempt to recover his dukedom of Milan drives the plot of The Tempest.

*Ariel lost his freedom to Sycorax and now serves Prospero

*Caliban, who considers himself the rightful ruler of the island, was overthrown and enslaved by Prospero

*Prospero strips the people he shipwrecks of their position and power

Through their reactions to these losses, the play's characters reveal their true natures.

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The play is full of examples of power taken by force, and in each case these actions lead to political instability and further attempts to gain power through violence.

*Antonio and Alonso overthrow of Prospero leads to Antonio and Sebastian's plot to overthrow Alonso

*Prospero's enslavement of Caliban leads him to seek revenge

It is only when Prospero breaks the cycle of violence by refusing to take revenge, that the political tensions in the play are calmed and reconciled. It suggests that compromise and compassion are more effective political tools than violence or even magic

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Magic, Illusion, and Prospero as Playwright

The play begins with Prospero's magic and ends with it too. Prospero uses illusions to manipulate his enemies. At almost every point in the play, his magic gives him total control. Many critics see Prospero's magical powers as a metaphor for a playwright's literary techniques as the writer uses words and writing techniques in the same way as Prospero uses his magic.

Many critics interpret the play's epilogue, in which Prospero asks the audience for applause that will set him free, as Shakespeare's farewell to theatre. Many critics argue that Prospero should be seen as a stand-in for Shakespeare himself

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Shakespeare uses the relationship between Prospero and Caliban to show how the misunderstandings between the colonizer and the colonized lead to hatred and conflict, with each side thinking that the other is at fault.It also explores the fears and opportunities that colonization creates.

*Racism and intolerance - Sebastian criticizes Alonso for allowing his daughter to marry an African

*Stephano and Trinculo both consider capturing Caliban to sell

*Gonzalo's musings about the perfect civilization he would establish if he could acquire a territory of his own - new places

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Love, Revenge & Greed

Love plays a lesser role in the play but is found within the love between Miranda and Ferdinand. Revenge plays a larger role as throughout the play, Prospero is continually trying to get back at those who usurped him. Caliban attempts to get revenge on Prospero for enslaving him. Greed however is most prevalent throughout the production. Each character exhibits some amount of the attribute, except maybe the lovers. Antonio and Sebastian are so greedy that they are willing to kill their own brothers, Caliban seeks to rule the island, Ariel assists Prospero for the sole reason of gaining her own freedom, and even Prospero shows greed as he creates the plot in order to gain things for himself.

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