Illusion in The Tempest

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Illusion in the Tempest

Illusion is a key theme in the play as it is integral to Shakespeare’s fascination with and discussion of what is real and what is illusion, showcased in many scenes of the play. It is also as far as we know, Prospero’s one and ultimate power.

* The dramatic opening scene of the play which is the basis of its entire plot is later revealed to be a complete illusion created by Prospero’s main spirit, Ariel, on his orders.

* Prospero throughout the play has a plan to try to regain his rightful position of Duke of Milan and reset the hierarchy which is immediately broken in this first scene. Illusion is his key weapon in implementing this ‘plan’. All of the three subplots (Prospero, Miranda and Ferdinand, Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban and Sebastian, Alonso and Antonio) are resolved with Prospero’s use of illusion. This appears in the form of the banquet and the harpy for Alonso, Antonio and Sebastian, in the form of a masque for Ferdinand and Miranda and in the form of the spirit dogs chasing Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo into a swamp. In all of these situations Prospero uses his spirits to create a spectacle to try to reinforce the point that he is making. The three illusions reflect parables, the first warning against gluttony, the second warning against sex before marriage, “Whose vows are that no bed-right shall be paid // Till Hymen’s torch be lighted” (Act 4 Scene 1) and the third parable warning against theft.
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* Ariel’s illusion of music is pivotal to drawing characters in and fulfilling Prospero’s plans for them. Caliban, Trinculo and Prospero are lead through “Toothed briars, sharp furzes, prickling gorse, and thorns”. Here the illusion almost seems real as they cannot help but follow something non-existent.

* Illusion on the island only seems to affect those who Prospero wants it to, enforcing his position as controller. For example, Gonzalo (a kind courtier) sees prosperous greenery, whereas Antonio and Sebastian (treacherous plotters) see a desolate and useless island.

* Caliban seems the only character immune ...

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