Is Prospero good or evil?
Prospero has two very obvious sides. He has a very compassionate side where he helps people and tries to make the island a better place to live, and his darker evil side where he torments people. It could be argued he’s only compassionate to help him self but he could only behave evilly for an over all good.
When Prospero is with Miranda he displays all of the compassionate characteristics of his personality. He speaks to Miranda very genteelly but sometimes patronizingly as is she is still a young child. He has kept the past from his daughter. This could be seen as protecting her, but he waits until she is in early childhood to tell her “thy father is the Duke of Milan.” This could show that’s he’s a bit of a control freak as he is sheltering her and denying her knowledge of her past. By keeping her in the dark he could be protecting her from what went on as he might still think of her as a young child as she was when they landed on the island. His sheltering could also be for his own good. If Miranda didn’t know what had gone on she couldn’t ask questions with answers that would make Prospero show his true colours. By sheltering Miranda he could protect himself. It is not clear if Prospero intentions where for his own good or for the good of his daughter.
When the royal ship was wrecked Ferdinand landed near to Prospero cell. Prospero wants Miranda and Ferdinand to fall in love so that his family will be returned to power. To make this happen he manipulates Miranda and Ferdinand by playing them off against each other. He makes them talking to each other forbidden knowing that Miranda will talk to Ferdinand just to defy her father. This means Prospero gets his way. Its this defiance on Miranda part that means Prospero cant force them together as they will only rebel apart. He has to try to keep them a way from each other to make them rebel together. Prospero spies on them to keep a track on how the lovers come together.
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All though Prospero is manipulating Miranda and Ferdinand he is assuring that Ferdinand is good enough for his daughter. By keeping them apart he is testing the bound between them. He is also securing peace between Milan and Naples in the future.
When Prospero first landed on the island all he had were a few provisions that were put on the ship with him. He meets Caliban and instantly takes control of him. As a learned and powerful man he is obviously Caliban superior yet he shows him kindness by teaching him how to speak and how to be a more civilized person. This might be considered as an act of altruism but is more likely to be self-preservation. With out Caliban to show Prospero the “qualities of the isle” like fresh springs he wouldn’t have been able to survive. In taking control of the island he is pushing Caliban out of control, the exact same thing that happened to him in Milan. This shows Prospero has double standards. Its ok for him to take over form someone who is inferior but didn’t like it when some one pushed him out of control.
In act two scene two it is clear to see that after Caliban has helps Prospero to survive on the island Prospero enslaves him. Not only has he enslaved him he tortures and torments him to such an extent that when Caliban sees someone new, for example Stephano and Trinculo, he assumes that they are sent by Prospero to torment him “ do not torment me, prithee; ill bring my wood home faster.” This shows how Caliban is afraid of the man he helped to survive on the island that is technically belongs to Caliban.
Caliban first words in the play are curses directed at Prospero. “…With raven feather from unwholesome fen drop on you…” this shows the disgust the Caliban feels at being kept as a slave by Prospero are he helped Prospero survive on the island.
Prospero has in affect taken the island from Caliban yet Prospero keeps reminding Caliban how much he has done for him. “I pitied thee, took pains to make thee speak…” Prospero does this to keep Caliban mentally in debt to him. This is again for Prospero’s own gain; if Caliban couldn’t communicate then it would make it hard for Prospero to mentally control Caliban but it would also be hard for Prospero to instruct Caliban to do all of the manual labor.
The way Prospero treats Caliban could be justified as punishment for Caliban trying to have sex with Miranda. “…In mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate the honor of my child.” Prospero could say that he has enslaved Caliban as a way of showing him he cant have what he wants all of the time. This could be seen as human nature because after all Caliban is still a man Miranda is an attractive young girl so he can’t really be blamed. Prospero’s over reaction could be a sign of how much he has sheltered Miranda and is unable to accept she is a woman not a girl.
Even so the torment he puts Caliban through appears to be a bit excessive.
When Prospero lands on the island he helps Ariel. He frees the tormented spirit for the clutches of Calibans, mother, Sycorax. Ariel has to pay the same price for Prospero’s help that Caliban has to pay – surrendering your freedom to Prospero. When Ariel was captured by Sycorax he was physically restrained but he was mentally free. When Prospero freed Ariel he became physically free but mentally he belongs to Prospero. Whenever Prospero calls Ariel he appears. “Approach my Ariel, come.” This shows the tremendous hold Prospero has over Ariel; Ariel is a spirit but can be controlled by a mortal.
Prospero doesn’t let Ariel forget that he saved him. He keeps reminding Ariel to keep him mentally trapped as he did with Caliban. “Dost thou forget from what a torment I did free thee?” He keeps reminding Ariel what his life would have been like if Prospero hadn’t intervened. Again Prospero has helped someone on the island for his own selfish gain. This shows Prospero’s more two faced, self-involved side.
Through out the play Prospero is seeking revenge for what injustices have been done to him in the past. To achieve this he manipulates everyone around him. Prospero considers himself as a combination judge and jury. He has decided who was to blame for his exile and then carries out their punishment.
Alonso corrupted Prospero’s brother Antonio and convinced him to over throw Prospero. In his mind this is the worse crime that could be committed. Not only was Alonso Prospero’s enemy he turned a member of his only family against him. This is where Prospero’s evil side shines through. Instead of just killing Alonso in the shipwreck he keeps him alive so that he can suffer physically and mentally just as Prospero would have done. Alonso has to search for food and shelter but he also has to live with the assumption that his son, Ferdinand, is dead. “My son is lost”. Alonso is obviously wracked by grief at losing his son. To make it worse Ferdinand isn’t dead he is just being used by Prospero in a game on the other side of the island. This shows how Prospero likes to torment people just for the fun of it.