Discuss the role and importance of magic in the first 3 acts of "The Tempest" by William Shakespeare

Authors Avatar

Discuss the role and importance of magic in the first 3 acts of “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare

“The Tempest” was the last play that Shakespeare wrote, and many people believe that the ideas for this production were taken from all his previous works.  One of the main themes in the play is that of magic, it’s use for ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and how this affects the society around it.  At the time that the play was being written, the people of Europe took magic very seriously, for example witches were still being burnt at the stake.  Magic plays a vital role in the play, determining the end of every scene, and indeed the fate of every character.  The first 3 acts reveal the usage of this magic, on both ends of the spectrum…

Act One Scene One sees the event that gives the play its name – the tempest itself.  In hindsight we are aware of the magic that was used to create the storm, but at the time of it’s happening we are led to believe that this is merely a natural occurrence.  Admittedly nobody is killed, and we later find out that even the rest of fleet have been safely sent back to Naples with the illusion that the King’s ship perished in the storm.  However despite this, it is questionable whether this magic was benign, as everyone suffered during its implementation.  This recurs throughout the whole of the play; as to whether it is necessary to mess with people’s emotions, sleep patterns and the natural elements, and indeed whether any good does come of this all in the end.  Prospero seems to have no hesitation in performing his magic, mainly for the good of himself, as we see in Act One Scene Two.  

In the following the audience learn of the magic that has been carried out, in the very first two lines spoken by Miranda.

“If by your art, my dearest father, you have

Put the will waters in this roar, allay them.”

She describes the magic as an “art” although the word has several darker connotations.  Miranda seems reluctant to understand her fathers need to practise magic, as she has seen the ship itself “Dashed all to pieces”.  It is with her worrying that Prospero reveals the story that has happened before the storm.  He mentions several characters that we have seen in Scene One of this Act.

“I thus neglecting worldly ends, all dedicated

Join now!

To closeness and the bettering of my mind

With that which, but by being so retired,

O’er-prized all popular rate”

Prospero explains to Miranda that he was once Duke of Milan, but he left control of the city to his brother Antonio, whilst he concentrated on the “bettering on my mind” – the study of magic.  He claims that people believed magic-was over-rated, because the supernatural powers were much more valuable than people first thought.  The tale that is told makes the audience feel sorry for Prospero, and maybe even forgive him for creating the storm, but this impression is ...

This is a preview of the whole essay