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The Tempest:  The Meaning of "Brave"


The word "brave" or a form of the word is used eighteen times in The Tempest by William Shakespeare and has numerous meanings.  The first occurrence of the word is when Miranda is speaking to her father and calls a vessel "brave."  The first one is always easy, the foot note says it means "splendid."  This note makes much sense in this passage, making the boat sound to be big and larger than life, in other words, splendid.  It also makes sense to have the first usage of the word "brave" to mean something positive, especially since Miranda is the one saying it.  Miranda only states "brave" two more times in the play, and again she uses it as an adjective, and again, in the affirmative. 


The first of the two occurs relatively close to the beginning.   When Miranda first sets her eyes on Ferdinand she states, "What, is't a spirit?. . . It carries a brave form" (I.ii.410).   Here, she has never seen anyone except her father and ugly, dreadful, Caligan, so, of course he is going to seem perfect to her, explaining the usage of the word to mean, splendid.  The second of the two occurs much later in the play.  She states, "[o] brave new world" (V.i.270).  Miranda is talking about the "new world" in this passage.  She is praising it and all the wonderful thing in it.  Prior to the last statement she says,  "o, wonder!/[h]ow many goodly creatures are there here!/[h]ow beauteous mankind is!" (V.i.268-270).  Obviously, in all cases Miranda only uses a good usage of the word.  


     On the other hand,  Caliban only uses the word in the negative.  Maybe negative is too harsh, however, he uses the word very differently than Miranda.  For example, he states, "That's a brave god and bears celestial liquor"(II.ii.159).  His interpretation of the word is like definition one on the handout.  Meaning that it is "wild."  This usage should seem typical from a drunkard, after all, he uses obscene language all the time.  He later says "brave brood" (III.ii.155).  Like Miranda uses the word in a positive way, Caliban uses it in a negative-like way.  Both ways of usage, negative and positive,  correlate with their physical appearance.


     When Prospero uses the word "brave" he uses it like definition #2 describes.  To face or endure with courage, to make showy.  Like Miranda and Caliban his usage matches his stature.  He seems to have once been a courageous, "brave,"  leader, therefore using the word in the same contexts. 


     Only after Ariel successfully sends the ship into the storm and makes the men aboard feel as though they are in hell does Prospero use "brave" addressing him.  Prospero proudly states to him, "My brave spirit!"  Of course, this could also mean splendid, however, because of the deed he just accomplished I believe that "courageous" would fit better.  Also, if Prospero really thought Ariel to be splendid then he would address him as "brave" often, instead of only after succeeding at such a task.


     Yes, I am sure that the characters may have used "brave" in a different way than I pointed out, however, as a whole, this is how I read into each character.   As I stated earlier Prospero seems to be brave in a courageous way, however, by the end of the play  he is "brave" in a different way.  Prospero has learned to be without revenge, making him "brave," meaning still courageous, because of the step and he has taken, and also making him "brave" in the same way his daughter is.

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