Presentation of Prospero in the Tempest

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The Tempest is a play about a shipwreck, which was orchestrated by Prospero. His intention was to get revenge on his brother Antonio, who cast Prospero and Miranda out on a ship several years ago. In an act of revenge, Prospero is able to use his power through Ariel to bring his enemies to the island, carrying out a series of acts that play a significant part in determining the outcome at the end of the play.Prospero is clearly the protagonist of the play as he is key to many situations and plays an integral part in the relationships between everyone on the island.

Shakespeare presents several aspects of his character through the roles and trials he undergoes throughout different situations in the play.We are aware that Prospero is the rightful Duke of Milan, immediately revealing his powerful and authoritarian position.”Thy father was the Duke of Milan andA prince of power.”Through this, Shakespeare is able to bring out several of Prospero’s characteristics, including his authoritarianism and power.

As a powerful figure, it is clear how Prospero has been able to take control over the island, just like he was in control whilst he was Duke of Milan. Prospero symbolizes colonial power in the play, as by treating the island as a colony, he takes over the native Caliban and becomes ruler of the island. As we see in the play, Prospero is able to have possession of the island. By presenting Prospero as a powerful figure, Shakespeare shows the reader an important character, and from his speech to Miranda, we get the impression that the character of Prospero is somewhat pretentious and self-indulgent.

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Magic is a vital theme in the Tempest, and is predominantly linked to Prospero’s character. Prospero gains the power of magic through books, revealing his character to be learned and knowledgeable. As we are aware, this knowledge is able to bring Prospero a great deal of supremacy, and he is able to use it in several ways throughout the play. Both magic and knowledge are symbols of Prospero’s superiority, as they allow him to gain control over the others on the island. Whilst in one way, Prospero uses magic to carry out good deeds, such as creating love between Miranda and Ferdinand, we are also shown magic being a manipulative device, which allows Prospero to control and interfere with situations and other people on the island. His main use of power can be seen during the storm, causing the shipwreck and bringing everyone to the island.Magic can been seen as Prospero’s downfall as because of his attention to his books, he put to Antonio “the manage of his state” and through this Antonio was able to take advantage. Whilst Prospero was “rapt in secret studies”, Antonio “so dry he was for sway” was able to usurp Milan from him. Prospero is clearly affected and still disheartened by a brother who he describes as “profidious” and proclaims him as an “enemy”. He talks a great deal about how he has been betrayed in his speech to Miranda, revealing his bitterness and animosity towards Antonio.Being central to the play, we are able to see how Prospero is connected to a lot of the other characters. The character that he is most concerned with is Miranda, his daughter. We first witness their relationship in Act 1 Scene 2, where Prospero decides that it is time to “inform thee further” and divulge the truth to his daughter. From this we are able to view Prospero as a protective father, who has kept information from her, in order to protect her, until she is old enough to understand.”I have done nothing but in care of thee,Of thee, my dear one, thee my daughter, whoArt ignorant of what thou art”Shakespeare’s repetition of “thee”, a second person pronoun, emphasises his concern for his daughter, showing us the centrality that Miranda is to his plans. As “thee” is a singular pronoun, it draws out Miranda, highlighting her as the person most beloved person to Prospero. By referring to her as “dear one”, Shakespeare presents a loving, caring father. Another way in which Prospero is shown as a protective father is through his match making of Miranda and Ferdinand. On their first meeting, Prospero says:”Follow me -Speak not you for him; he’s a traitor. – Come,I’ll manacle they neck and feet together…”Prospero accuses Ferdinand of being a traitor in order to make him work harder to prove his love for Miranda.”They are both in either’s powers, but this swift businessI must make uneasy, less too light winningMake the prize light.”An alternative view to Prospero’s image of a father figure is that he is manipulative and controlling of his daughter Miranda. In the play we see that Prospero objectifies Miranda by calling her a “rich gift” and referring to her as “compensation” for all that Ferdinand has done. This reveals Prospero’s view of Miranda as material worth and further builds up the metaphor of Miranda as a thing of exchange. Prospero also uses Miranda’s virginity as a bargaining tool.”ButIf thou dost break her virgin-knot before..”Miranda’s virginity is used to ensure that Prospero is able to achieve his goal of securing his power back in Milan. The matchmaking of Miranda with Ferdinand can be viewed as scheming and a method of dominating his daughter. As he kept the truth from her for so long, we are able to view a father that is taking charge of his child, controlling what she can or cannot know. Not only does Prospero meddle in the affairs of his daughter, but he plays a part in numerous situations in the play, which is something that the power, gained from magic, allows him to do.”Enter MIRANDA[,] and PROSPERO[at a distance unseen].”Shakespeare uses stagecraft to show Prospero’s presence, as he watches Ferdinand and Miranda whilst unseen. By doing this, Shakespeare emphasises the importance of Prospero’s character. He is present in scenes even though he may not be directly involved with what is occurring. This is echoed at different stages of the play, where Prospero lingers in the background, unnoticed by others but fully aware of what is happening. Shakespeare also highlights Prospero’s power through stagecraft as Prospero is usually central to the proceedings in the play. Examples of the stagecraft used to emphasise Prospero’s power are:”Solemn and strange music, and PROSPERO on the top (invisible), and”They all enter the circle which Prospero had made and there stand charmed, which Prospero observing…”Shakespeare is able to draw attention to Prospero’s status by having him raised “on the top” and surrounded by everyone else. His high rank is reflected through him being raised and central to the action on the stage. This is also shown by other character’s reactions and responses towards Prospero. An example of this is where Caliban addresses Prospero as his “master”. Even his daughter, Miranda, addresses Prospero as “sir” which is a very formal way of addressing ones father, revealing the great deal of respect shown towards Prospero.Shakespeare presents a master to slave role through Prospero, who is able to use his powers to take control over Caliban and Ariel. Caliban, the son of the witch Sycorax, is the native on the island. On their arrival to the island, Caliban showed and helped Prospero and Miranda around their new surroundings.”And then I loved theeAnd showed thee all the qualities o’th’ isle”We are able to witness a role reversal as Caliban has now become Prospero’s slave.”We’ll visit Caliban, my slave, who neverYields us a kind answer”Shakespeare’s language allows the reader to identify Prospero’s power over Caliban straight away. The use of the possessive pronoun “my” creates a sense of ownership of Caliban by Prospero and this is emphasised by calling him “slave”. We are able to see that Prospero resents Caliban’s presence, and his attitude towards him is strict and reserved. The dislike and authority is further emphasised when Prospero says:”What ho, slave! Caliban,Thou earth, thou: speak!”Prospero’s language towards Caliban is degrading and low as it is associated with earth, creating an image of Caliban as an animal-like figure and also portraying the social hierarchy at which Prospero is at the top and Caliban is at the bottom. The chain of being is made up of God, king, man, woman, beast, where Caliban represents the beast. Prospero’s use of magic can give him God-like features and his overall power gives him the status of a king. The use of imperatives reinforces that fact that Prospero is in control. Prospero’s harsh treatment towards Caliban causes a resentful reaction.”This island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother,Which thou tak’st from me”The accusatory bitter tone suggests that Prospero has wrongly taken away Caliban’s home. The possessive pronoun used by Caliban accentuates that the island belonged to him, furthermore presenting Prospero in a bad light.Here Shakespeare presents Prospero as a tyrant who is seen to be unjustly dominating Caliban. This presentation causes dislike to arise from the reader, as we are able to see a harsh, dictator in the character of Prospero. However, after learning about what Caliban did, our view of, and feelings towards, Prospero soften.”Thou most lying slave,Whom stripes may move, not kindness; I have used thee(Filth as thou art) with humane care and lodged theeIn mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violateThe honour of my child”In this case we see Prospero as a wise leader who is able to use authority in a justifiable way to teach Caliban a moral lesson. This presentation of Prospero is supported by his actions of teaching and helping Caliban.”You taught me language”We can see that Caliban does not appreciate Prospero’s guidance and education, and he feels the only benefit from learning is knowing “how to curse”. Again this causes the reader to witness Caliban’s ingratitude, and from this Shakespeare presents Prospero’s treatment of Caliban as justifiable. Prospero does not consider that Caliban may be different and na�ve and therefore is not lenient with him.In the play, we are aware that Prospero has been betrayed twice. Antonio betrayed Prospero by usurping him from Milan and Caliban betrayed Prospero by attempting to rape Miranda. The audience is also aware that this is the cause of Prospero’s bitterness and vengeance. Shakespeare is able to provoke sympathy from the readers, who are aware that Prospero has been betrayed. The theme of injustice is shown throughout the play and we are aware that one of Prospero’s main aims is to re-establish justice by re-establishing himself to power.Ariel is a spirit that is bound to Prospero as a result of Prospero’s help when he freed him from a tree. Prospero is therefore able to wield control over Ariel because of this and through his control Prospero takes advantage, using Ariel as a source of magic to help him.”Has thou, spirit,Preformed to point the tempest that I bade thee?”Ariel is subservient towards Prospero, willingly doing as he commands.”All hail great master; grave sir, hail! I come,To answer thy best pleasure”We find that the reason for this subservience is that Ariel wants to be freed:”Thou shalt be as freeAs mountain winds, but then exactly doAll points of my command”At first glance we see the haughty side of Prospero, who is angered by Ariel’s request for release, reminding Ariel that he is indebted to him.”Does thou forgetFrom what a torment I did release thee?”Ariel’s negative politeness revealed in his plea is contrasted with Prospero’s infuriation which is shown when he calls Ariel a “liest, malignant thing.”We are aware that Prospero has control over Ariel, in the same way that Prospero achieved dominance over Caliban. However, regardless of this dominance, there does seem to be mutual respect and affection between Prospero and Ariel:”Do you love me, master? No?”Dearly, my delicate Ariel.”This presents Prospero as a compassionate person, who is able to have a loving relationship with those who may not be as superior as he is.It is interesting to compare the relationship that Prospero has with Ariel and Caliban as they present Prospero’s different types of leadership. Whilst with Ariel, Prospero’s relationship is more of a mutual friendship, in which they are both helping each other, his relationship with Caliban is very strict and one sided, emphasising the control that Prospero is able to acquire. In contrast to the loving mutual relationship that arises between Prospero and Ariel, Shakespeare suggests that Caliban deserves the treatment he receives due to his unacceptable behaviour.Prospero can be seen as a hypocrite. Being a victim of injustice, Prospero talks about being hurt and suffering as a result of this and calls himself the “wronged Duke of Milan”. We are able to see his hypocritical nature when he treats others unjustly. For example, the imprisonment of Ariel and Caliban are both instances where he has caused others to suffer. Prospero feels wrongly done by when his power is taken away from him but is unable to notice that he is doing to the same by enslaving Caliban and Ariel. Shakespeare reveals a one-sided view of justice, showing that justice for Prospero is only considered when it affects him.Prospero’s behaviour at the end of the play is significant as Shakespeare is able to show us a character that can forgive everyone and keep his promise to Ariel. His forgiving nature allows order to be restored and creates a contented ending.Although at first it seemed as though Prospero was using his powers to indulge his own incentives, we find that his actions had a bigger purpose. His initial imprisonment and persecution of Ferdinand was simply a test which resulted in a loving relationship with Miranda. Caliban’s education from Prospero can be seen to pay off as he states that he will “be wise hereafter”. By describing Caliban as a “thing of darkness” that he “acknowledges” as his own, and realising that the malicious evil that is seen in Caliban is also his shortcoming, Shakespeare successfully portrays Prospero as a more knowledgeable man, who has become aware of the beast in his own nature. In contrast to Prospero’s initial reaction when Ariel asked to be set free, Prospero gladly allows Ariel his freedom at the end.”Be free, and fare thou well!”Prospero is able to put his past behind him and forgive those who have betrayed him. Shakespeare’s presentation of a noble Prospero contrasts with his vengeful attitude at the beginning of the play, emphasising how far he has come at the end of it.Prospero’s power through magic is “o’erthrown”, as it is given up.”And what strength I have’s mine own,Which is most faint.”Prospero is presented by Shakespeare in a positive view, as by voluntarily giving up his magic, he reveals a selfless character, who is able to let go of his own desires in order to return to reality.Shakespeare presents Prospero with several roles and characteristics and it is clear that he is able to achieve many of theses roles through both his leadership capabilities and magic. On the one hand we are able to view Prospero as a vengeful leader, whose desire to get revenge, with the aid of magic, causes him to influence and control the happenings on the island. Conversely, Shakespeare presents the audience with a character who is reformed at the end of the play. He relieves his possession of magic, presents his altruistic nature, and is able to forgive everybody, as well as create new order, which is symbolised through the matrimony of Miranda and Ferdinand.Prospero is a metaphor of an author creating a story. This can be seen by the audience for the reason that, by being constantly in control of almost every scene of the play; Prospero is truly in charge of the action. Not only is he dominating the events, but it is mainly his view and insight that is audience is able to see. For example, Prospero’s sense of injustice is revealed to the audience, causing the audience to see things from Prospero’s point of view. Prospero’s character can be seen to be mirroring Shakespeare’s role, as he is manipulating the action and is able to bring about the happy ending.Shakespeare deliberately reveals a great deal about Prospero, more so than any of the other characters, in order to allow us to fully witness the changes in his personality. One of the most interesting changes in the play is the transformation of his character, from his bold use of magic as a means of getting back at the people who betrayed him, to releasing the power gained by magic and replacing his need for revenge with the greater and nobler deed of being able to forgive everyone.”Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th’quick,Yet with my nobler reasons ‘gainst my furyDo I take part. The rarer action isIn virtue than in vengeance.”A great deal occurs in the play and the most intricate changes take place within the character of Prospero, and it is for this reason that the presentation of Prospero becomes interesting. By the end of the play, Prospero’s priorities have changed. This is shown by the renunciation of magic and through this Shakespeare is able to present Prospero as a weaker but more commendable figure, generating sympathy and respect from the audience.

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Presentation of Prospero in the Tempest. (2019, Jun 20). Retrieved from

Presentation of Prospero in the Tempest
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