The Tempest essay
Consider the character of Prospero and show how he used his position to control many of the characters in the play and how his actions contribute to the dramatic effectiveness. How do his actions and the attitude of the characters to him relate to the events and thinking of Shakespeare’s day?
In the Tempest, the character of Prospero is the protagonist. Prospero is the father of Miranda and has spent twelve years on the island since he was usurped from being the Duke of Milan. Prospero is a powerful man, which makes him a good leader. He is very knowledgeable because of the books he read. He also has control, because he can be harsh and firm but also virtuous towards others. Prospero would also seem a cruel character to a modern day audience because of sense of control and harshness he has over the other characters. However this would have been accepted, as the traits of a good leader because in Shakespeare’s day being a good leader would entail being harsh and cruel towards others so therefore Prospero was looked upon as a good leader. This connects to James the first (the King at the time Shakespeare wrote this play) because Shakespeare is suggesting that James the first has these qualities, (harshness, cruel, firm) because he is a King just like Prospero in the play. In Shakespeare’s time it would have be expected that a good leader should be harsh and firm- often the leader was head of his family. Throughout the play we see Prospero’s harshness, towards Caliban, Ariel, Miranda and Ferdinand. Prospero is very firm towards Ariel. Ariel has no freedom because Prospero controls her. He needed to be firm because he only gave himself four hours and therefore has to be prompt and order Ariel about to get her to do what he wants. Ariel is Prospero’s servant much like Caliban, but Ariel is mischievous, ubiquitous and able to carry out any task that Prospero wishes to be done.
Prospero is also harsh and firm towards Miranda, but is in total control of her as well. He can control her every move and put her to sleep at once. He is also loving and kind towards her because he is her father and that is what father’s should be like towards their daughters. His language therefore alters when he is speaking to Miranda even though he is in control of her like all the other characters, he warns her about Ferdinand by saying to her, “ … I fear you have done yourself some wrong. A word!” Miranda replies to this by saying, “…this is the third man that e’er I saw…” Although he is her father and is in total control of her, he is therefore not as harsh towards her as he is towards Caliban or various other characters. He therefore is harsh towards Ferdinand at first and that is why he uses stronger language towards Miranda to warn he about him, “Follow me. Speak not you for him. He’s a traitor –come.” This quotation shows the power Prospero has over Miranda. Prospero is full of kindness and tenderness not just harshness as he shows at the end of the play when he rightfully hands the island back to Caliban. As Prospero is in total control of Miranda he will not tell her about her past until he is ready, this way he is not forced into anything. He only has total control over her because he is powerful and knowledgeable. He also gives her warnings about Ferdinand and that he does not think that Ferdinand is worthy enough for his daughter and therefore downgrades his social state by making him another of his slaves. He reduces Ferdinand to the same social status that Prospero and Miranda where reduced to when Prospero was usurped from being the Duke of Milan. He seems to also treat him much the same as Caliban, although the language he uses reflects more respect towards Ferdinand. He has more respect for Ferdinand due to Ferdinand and Prospero’s love for Miranda.
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Prospero controls everyone in the play much like in a game of chess where the player has control of all his pieces. Prospero is the player and all the other characters are the pieces, some being more powerful and useful than others to help win the game. Caliban is like one of the pawns in the game not very powerful but necessary to win the game. Prospero needs Caliban to be his slave so he doesn’t have to do things himself. Miranda is like the Queen, the second most important piece in the game, but not as powerful as the King, yet more important than the bishops and Knights. Prospero is the King of the island and is more powerful than anyone and the most important person to him is his daughter so she is the Queen. Ferdinand is the knight in this game because at the end he is a respected piece, with a small amount of power, but first he is downgraded to a pawn because Prospero makes Ferdinand his slave and slaves have no power. In the end he is worthy enough for Miranda and is therefore more powerful so is promoted back to being a knight in the game chess because he is eventually respected and excepted by the King, Prospero. Ariel is like a castle, because a castle has the potential to move through many squares but is usually unable to do this due to the control of the King Prospero. The King still has lots of control over the castle. The castle is a vital piece if you want to be in with a chance of winning the game. This is like Ariel because Ariel is vital to Prospero in many ways. He helps Prospero by doing the tasks that he needs doing.
Finally at the end of the game it’s ‘checkmate’ and Prospero gets the King of the opponents side. This means that Prospero gets to become the King of Naples once again. Prospero controls all the pieces because he is King and this relates to Shakespeare because Shakespeare has written the play and has therefore had total control of every piece including Prospero –the King! So Shakespeare is the player, much like Prospero although Prospero is also a chess piece –King- Chess is a game of skill and careful thought and that is what qualities Prospero has but so to does Shakespeare, the player. When Shakespeare was writing this he could be relating it to James the first, the King at the time. He is complimenting James I by implying that he is a good King or leader, which therefore connects him to Prospero.
Dramatic effectiveness is used throughout the play. Caliban adds a lot of conflict, tension and suspense to the play, especially in the relationship between himself and Prospero. Caliban is represented in the play as monster like, not a human and very uncivilised, therefore because he is less civilised he seems less powerful when he is compared to Prospero. Caliban needs to be nurtured because he has a certain amount of evil in him that he cannot control. Everyone has evil in them but Caliban needs to learn how to control this evilness, which is why he is represented as a monster-like creature. Prospero says that “man must nurture nature” and is therefore relating Caliban to nature, meaning that he is a living thing but that thing is not necessarily humanlike. Prospero dehumanises him by connecting him to animals and by doing this he is lowering his social status. “ Hagseed, Fetch us fuel- and be quick, thou’rt best” Also at this time when Shakespeare was writing this there was a debate over “nature” and “nuture” Can someone with bad blood in them be “nurtured” and made good? The answer always seems to be no. Caliban was at first treated well but still attempted to violate Miranda, which therefore relates to his bad blood, so nature over rides his teaching and learning. Although Caliban is thought of as a creature and therefore not clever, he actually is quite clever to a certain degree because he learns the language of Prospero, which is today classed as a very impressive thing to be able to do. Caliban is only Prospero’s slave but is still vital to Prospero to do his labour work for him. Caliban learns very quickly that he is a slave and therefore realises he position, because Prospero addresses him as a slave immediately, which states his position. “ Thou poisonous slave, come fourth” This strong language connects Caliban to evilness again, “poisonous” Furthermore this relates to black magic, “ got by the devil himself” Which suggests that he is born with evil inside his due to his mother ‘Sycorax’ being a witch and his father being the devil. This evilness and tension is relieved through humour, which is created in the play through Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo. There is humour due to their drunkenness.
Throughout the play there are two forces of magic. Sycorax, the mother of Caliban uses black magic. The colour black is associated with the dark and night. This sense of dark and evilness makes us think of the devil, and the devil is connected with witchcraft. The audience will feel that Sycorax’s magic is evil, unlike Prospero’s magic, which is an art. His magic is therefore more accepted by the audience because it has been learnt and because it is an art form. Prospero then uses his magic powers to control nature. Although magic is not accepted as being real in today’s world, but in Shakespeare’s day magic was accepted and seen upon as normal because nobody really understood how it worked and therefore didn’t find out that is was unreal. This also connects to James the first because he had an interest in magic.
Prospero has authority over Caliban and often orders him to do things, “come forth!” “fetch us in fuel” We know that Caliban realises his position and understands the power that Prospero has because in reply to his orders Caliban says, “ I must obey. His art is of such power, it would control my dam’s God Setebos.” When Prospero treats Caliban with violence, “Whom stripes are my mine not kindness,” this connects to the idea that if you are good you will be good in education and it is worth educating you, but if you are said to be ‘bad in blood’ then education is pointless therefore the only form of control is violence and that is why Prospero uses violence towards Caliban- because he is not worth educating. When this play is dramatised Caliban could be represented as a creature that is grovelling on the floor next to Prospero showing a height difference meaning that Prospero is more powerful and human like. Prospero is more powerful than Caliban because they each try to curse each other but the curses from Caliban are empty because he has a lack of power.
The start of the play immediately fills the audience with suspense, because they do not know what is going on and there is a sense of chaos and action that adds to the dramatic effectiveness. This opening scene does not tell the audience much, and it also seems normal because there is nothing supernatural or strange about it.