How is the theme of magic presented in Act 1 Scene 2 of The Tempest and Act 5 Scene 1. What was the Elizabethan attitude to magic at the time?
In this essay I will analyze the theme of magic in Act 1 Scene 2 and in Act 5 Scene 1 of the Tempest, and I will also look at Elizabethan attitude to magic at the time.
The theme of magic was very important in the 1600s in the Elizabethan age.
James I believed in the Divine Rights of Kings, he thought that he was God’s voice on Earth. He thought that if God was represented on Earth, then so was evil. People believed that witches contained evil, women were dunked/stoned/hung if they were found out to be a witch, as it was seen as ridding the world of evil, England was religious:- good v evil. This all relates to the Tempest because the Tempest is all about magic, it is set on a magic island and the main character(Prospero) uses magic spells to achieve his intensions.
Also the Tempest meant in Shakespeare’s days a very angry stormy temper, it also meant a magical process changing things into gold.
The play the Tempest is about Prospero the Duke of Milan & his daughter(Miranda), they were one day chucked onto a boat, they were meant to drown, but Gonzalo a dear friend of Prospero supplied them with food, drink & books on the boat, Antonio, Prospero’s brother and Alonso the King ordered them to be put onto the boat. They then arrive on a strange magical island, Prospero learns magic over the time, and Miranda, his daughter grows up, Prospero then gets King Alonso & Antonio & Gonzalo & other servants to come to the island by causing a storm when they are on a boat. He then talks to them, and he realises that it is better to forgive them rather than just get his revenge on Alonso & Antonio, so Prospero forgives Antonio & Alonso & and he thanks his old friend Gonzalo for all his help. Prospero then decides to give up magic and wants to return to his normal life and go back to Milan. After all this Prospero, Miranda, Ferdinand, Gonzalo, Alonso and Antonio all return to Milan, and Prospero becomes the Duke again.
The 2 scenes that I will be analyzing are Act 1 Scene 2, and Act 5 Scene 1.
In this section I will analyze how the theme of magic is presented in Act 1 Scene 2.
In Act 1 Scene 2 the theme of magic is mainly presented by Ariel, a magic spirit that flys around and is a servant of Prospero as he freed Ariel from the evil spell that the monstrous witch Sycorax put on Ariel. Ariel causes the storm that caused the boat with Alonso & Antonio to crash onto shore.
Prospero likes to order Ariel to perform magic for him:-“Hast thou spirit performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?”. This shows that Prospero is a very powerful magician who can even control the elements, it also shows that Prospero uses Ariel to perform magic for him and he can even control Ariel.
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Prospero, oneday reminds Ariel about Sycorax & evil black magic:-“Hast thou forgotten the evil witch Sycorax?”. This was to remind Ariel of Sycorax and how she used her magic in an evil way intended for bad purposes and how badly she treated Ariel, it was also to remind Ariel that Prospero uses his magic for good purposes, not for evil.
Prospero also uses his magic to control people less intelligent than himself:-“He, that Caliban, whom now I keep in service”. This shows that Prospero keeps the hideous Caliban as his slave and servant to perform various duties for him. Caliban comes from the world Cannibal, this means someone who eats human flesh and enjoys it, this is because in the 1600s and onwards many explorers were sent out to explore places like Africa, and they came back with sickening, strange stories of the people who inhabited the country and what they did, and many thought that the local people were monsters, because of the way they lived, so they decided they were all Cannibals.
Oneday Prospero has to use his magical powers to threaten Ariel into continuing his duty:-“If thou more murmust, I will rend an oak, and peg there in his knotty entrails till”. This shows that Prospero is threatening Ariel to continue his service until Prospero decides to set Ariel free, at the end of his service.
Prospero oneday tells the story of Caliban to his daughter, and how Caliban’s mother, Sycorax used evil magic to achieve her goals:-“Mischiefs manifold and sorceries terrible”. This shows what Prospero thinks of how Sycorax used her magic, and Prospero does not approve of this, plus this also highlights the multitude of evil acts that Sycorax performed.
Islands are often viewed as magical places in films and literature because islands are enchanted, strange and magical places away from civilisation, and where strange and mysterious acts happen, where as on normal land these acts would not occur. An island is any piece of land that is completely surrounded by water. Very small islands such as emergent land features on atolls are called islets. A key or cay is another name for a small island or islet. An island in a river or lake may be called an eyot. There are 2 main types of islands:- Continental islands, and Oceanic islands. There are also artificial islands. A group of geographically related islands are called an archipelago.
Some films/novels that are set on islands are:- Robinson Crusoe, this is a novel by Daniel Defoe, first published in 1719 and sometimes regarded as the first novel in English. The book is a fictional autobiography of the title character, an English castaway who spends 28 years on a remote island, encountering savages, captives and mutineers before being rescued. The story was influenced by the real life events of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway marooned on a Pacific island for 4 years.
Also, Survivor was a popular reality TV game show produced throughout many countries in the world, in this show contestants are isolated on a island far away from any kind of civilisation and are given different challenges to do for cash, e.g build a straw hut, where they can sleep in, they are meant to survive for 1 month on the island, and the person who took up the most challenges wins the prize of up to £1 million.
In the tempest, the island is strange and magical, mainly because of the weather in it, and the strange spirits roaming it, images of classical gods and creatures are to suggest that the island is surrounded by mythological beings:-“The most mighty Neptune”, and “Joves lightening”, this range of metaphors describe the strange mythological spirits that inhabit the island.
Images of coldness, darkness and harshness of nature show that the island can be a difficult and dangerous place to live on:-“The sharp wind of the north”, and “Sulphurous roaring, dreadful thunder claps”. This range of personification shows how severe the weather can be on the island.
In Elizabethan times, many people believed in witches, magic and sorcery.
During this time, witches were believed to have been in a pact with satan and capable of inflicting harm upon humans. A witch would also have a mark that identified her as a witch:- a 3rd nipple and tails were common. A witch also had an animal of some kind which could be satan in animal form.
Witchcraft trails peaked in the 1600s, with famous cases including Alice Nutter in Lancashire(1612) and the Essex witch trails(1570-1600).
Puritans also believed the devil was as real as God. Everyone was faced with the struggle between the powers of good and evil, but satan would select the weakest individuals, women, children, and the insane to carry out his work. Those who followed satan were considered witches. Witchcraft was one of the greatest crimes a person could commit in those days, punishable by death.
Also witches were believed to have special powers of evil, like:- they could speak with the devil, and with his help they could communicate with the dead, some could also see into the future. Witches could also poison people and make them fall ill by using spells & potions and they could even kill. They can fly & make themselves invisible to the human eye, they also used their evil animal helpers as disguises, they can even cause bad weather & storms affecting ships at sea & spoiling crops. Witches were blamed for anything that went wrong, any woman that acted differently from any other woman, was accused of being a witch.
In this part of the essay I will explore Prospero’s attitude to magic in Act 5 Scene 1.
In Act 5 Scene 1, Prospero’s attitude to magic in this scene changes dramatically. Prospero at first still fells in control and has strong powers at the start of the scene:-“Now does my project gather to a head”. This shows that Prospero speaks in the present tense, drawing the audience’s attention to the fact that his charms are still powerful, and in full effect.
Prospero can easily control others like King Alonso, Antonio & Sebastian and their movements with his magic powers:-“Does now speak to thee, Iembrace thy body”. This shows that Prospero is still a very powerful magician & can take control of others and their actions.
Prospero, oneday recollects all the times that he has used his magic and the power that he has held on the island:- “Graves at my command have waked their sleepers, oped and let ‘ em portr, by my potent”. This shows Prospero remembering all the times he has used magic on the island, and telling the audience how much impact and power he had over the island with his powers.
Later in the scene, Prospero discovers that he has used his magic for bad purposes:-“But this rough magic I here abjure”. This shows that Prospero has discovered that he has used his magic for bad purposes, and is thinking of giving up magic.
And near the end of the scene, Prospero swears an oath to give up magic:-“This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, bury it certain fathoms in the earth, and deeper than did ever plummet sound I’ll drown my book”. This shows that Prospero has finally decided that the life of magic is not for him, and he has decided to give up magic by breaking his magic staff & by throwing his magic books into the sea.
Stage directions and entrances & exits make the island seem more magical for a number of reasons:-“Prospero marks a magic circle on the ground”. The stage directions give us a mental image of what the character is doing, and what is happening, in this example, the stage directions give us a mental picture of Prospero marking a magic circle in the ground.
Stage directions make the island seem more magical, as they are like the Shakespearean special effects, because in Shakespeare’s days they did not have any of the special effects that we have now a days in our films like smoke screens, lasers, and bright lights. So Shakespeare had to make uses of what he already had, which were stage directions in his plays.
Shakespeare used stage directions in character entrances & exits very well, as shown:-“ENTER Prospero in his magical cloak, and Ariel”. These stage directions give us a mental image of Prospero entering, and wearing his magical cloak, and alongside him Ariel enters too.
Prospero’s clothes are also very significant, as they make Prospero seem more magical:-“ENTER Prospero in his magical cloak”. This shows Prospero is entering with his magical cloak, and will probably perform some magic spell or some other magic while he is in his magical cloak. Also:-“Re-enter Ariel, with hat and rapier for Prospero”. This shows that Prospero is getting ready to do some more magic as he is given his magical hat & rapier.
Between the 2 Acts, Act 1 Scene 2 and Act 5 Scene 1, Prospero’s thoughts and attitudes to magic change dramatically. In Act 1 Scene 2, Prospero has learnt how to use magic from his books, and he loves to use it, he uses his magic to make Ariel perform different tasks for him, like the storm created that shipwrecked King Alonso’s ship and everyone else on it. Plus Prospero used his magic to control the evil son of Sycorax, Caliban, Prospero in this act uses Caliban as a slave, making him chop wood and do other chores.
All in all, in Act 1 Scene 2, Prospero’s thoughts and attitudes to magic are very positive, as he is using magic for his own well-being and for what he wants.
And in Act 5 Scene 1, Prospero’s thoughts and attitudes towards magic start to change and become negative as he has realised that he has used his magic for bad purposes and is beginning to regret it, so in this scene he decides to give up magic, he said that he does not want to continue his life of magic anymore, and he just wants to go back to being a normal person and have his dukedom back, and return to Milan with his daughter & Ferdinand and live there for the rest of his life.
Prospero’s language towards magic in Act 1 Scene 2 was very positive, he used lots of metaphors, similes and personification techniques to describe his uses of magic and how wonderful it was and how useful it was.
But in Act 5 Scene 1, Prospero’s language towards magic starts to get negative, especially in his speech where he finally announces that he will give up magic, he uses lots of alliteration and personification in this speech to describe what he has done and why he thinks he should give up magic.
In conclusion to this essay, in Act 1 Scene 2 Prospero’s thoughts and attitudes to magic were very positive, he thought he was using magic for a good purpose as he felt in control of everything, but in Act 5 Scene 1, Prospero’s thoughts and attitudes to magic turn negative as he has realised he has used his magic for bad purposes, and he also believes it is the end of his magic rein, so he decides to give up magic and go back to his normal life, like he was before he was sent to the island.
This all relates to attitude to magic at the time because in Shakespeare’s days, everyone believed there was God, satan, magic, witches, sorcerers, wizards and evil, magic at the time was considered very dangerous, and people believed anyone who knew magic was a witch and had satan inside them, but as you move on in time, less and less people believe in magic and similar things, like nowadays in our society practically no-one believes in witches and magic and wizards and similar things, because we all have moved on in time, and these things are of a less importance to most of us, as we do not have as much time and belief to worry about these types of things.