Compassion is what causes us to forgive. Not because someone deserves it, but because they need it" (Giles 1). In the plays Macbeth and The Tempest

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Amanda Nauman

Mr. Rhodes

English II H / Period 3

03 June 2005

Forgiveness and Compassion

“Compassion is what causes us to forgive. Not because someone deserves it, but because they need it” (Giles 1). In the plays Macbeth and The Tempest, Shakespeare poses the questions of humanity and clearly defines it along the lines of the story. Macbeth follows the story of a power-hungry couple and their thirst for power. Eventually murder becomes the means of power, and all the virtues of humanity are forgotten. The Tempest is a play about Prospero and his encounter with his brother whom he despises and wants to seek revenge upon, and his daughter’s encounter with love. But the spirit Ariel is there to save Prospero and show him what it means to truly be human. Through the misunderstanding in Macbeth and the understanding in The Tempest, Shakespeare defines humanity as the action of forgiveness and recognition of compassion in both plays. The characters, as well as the readers of Macbeth and The Tempest will understand that the essential qualities defining the human are forgiveness and compassion.

In both plays, one must come to the realization that compassion is not mere pity for someone or thing, but it is passionate, caring, divine, and above all, a celebration. In The Tempest, Prospero is initially blinded by a misinterpretation of compassion and his own selfishness: “Now does my project gather to a head: / my charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time / goes upright with his carriage. How's the day?” (Shakespeare The Tempest 5.1.2-3). This greeting to Ariel shows that all he cares about is himself from the beginning. Prospero harbors a great deal of resentment about his treatment back in Milan and is never very far from wanting to exact a harsh revenge Without Ariel even asking, Prospero feels the need to reiterate how his plans are working perfectly and how he will not change because it is just right. After much observation, it is now that Ariel realizes that Prospero is missing something very important: “If you now beheld them, your affections / would become tender / Dost thou think so, spirit?” and Ariel’s reply is heart-wrenching, “Mine would, sir, were I human” (5.1.23-6). “While compassion implies passion, pathos and deep caring arising from the bowels and guts, it also implies an intellectual life […] To develop such an awareness implies deep study, not only of books, but of nature itself […] Entering more fully into the truth of the universe in which we live” (Heschel 23-4). Ariel is the very spirit of imaginative illusion and though not even human, he grasps the idea of compassion that Prospero seems to lack. Because Ariel has had such long time to gain an outside perspective on nature and humanity, he reveals this misunderstanding and unawareness of compassion to Prospero. This is now Prospero’s moment of realization in which he does not feel pity for someone else’s weakness, rather he works from a strength born of awareness of shared weakness. He gives up the desire of revenge and indulges himself in the true quality of humanity. Contrary to Prospero, in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth already recognizes compassion as a key element in her life but then destroys the virtue she knows she holds: “Come, you spirits / that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / and fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / of direst cruelty!” (Shakespeare Macbeth 1.5.47-50). “Egocentricity is an ugly energy that runs even deeper than do lies […] a pathological state of ego-defense and invulnerability” (Heschel 15). Based on that statement, Lady Macbeth is only attaining immunity in her own mind by being egocentric. She is aware of the virtue of compassion, but is willing to throw it all away, even her own gender, for power which she incorrectly assumes will giver all she ever wants. Lady Macbeth, her icy nerves shattered by the weight of guilt and paranoia, gives way to sleepwalking and a delusional belief that her hands are stained with blood: “What need we / fear who knows it, when none can call our power to / account?” (Shakespeare Macbeth 5.1.39-41). “To fail to act out of our kinship with all of creation is to invite brutality that narcissism so easily entertains. An experience of cosmic awareness is a basic ingredient for true compassion.” (Heschel 18). She subtly questions humanity when she asks how one can fear anything without taking power into account. She initially relied on power to define herself until she realized she was absolutely nothing with out compassion inside her for others. Through the actions of Prospero, Ariel, and Lady Macbeth in The Tempest and Macbeth, Shakespeare has emphasized the importance of compassion in order to live as a human being.

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Shakespeare not only believes that compassion is the key in humanity, but forgiveness as well. In The Tempest, Prospero holds a grudge throughout the play due to the fact that his brother Antonio, conspiring with Alonso, the King of Naples, usurped his position as the Duke of Milan:

[…] in my false brother

Awaked an evil nature; and my trust,

Like a good parent, did beget of him

A falsehood in its contrary as great

As my trust was; which had indeed no limit (Shakespeare The Tempest 1.2.112-6).

Coursen believes that Prospero attempts to put Alonso and the other conspirators ...

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