Apparitions and the Supernatural in Shakespeare's The Tempest

Powerful Essays
What immediately strikes the audience about The Tempest is the use of the supernatural in the form of apparitions like Ariel and the Harpy. These apparitions are under Prospero's authority and the result of his Art, which is the disciplined use of virtuous knowledge. By invoking a masque to celebrate the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda, Prospero effectively brings to full circle the theme of re-generation by obliterating the evil done and suffered by one generation through the love of the next. However, this is juxtaposed against the anti-masque elements of the attempted usurpations of Antonio and Caliban, which hold the play in a delicate balance between a tragic or comic resolution, holding the audience in great suspense.

Through the use of his Art, Prospero is able to bring Ariel, whom he releases from the imprisonment of Sycorax, under his control. By transcending into the realm of the supernatural, there is an inversion of the Natural Order, as Prospero is but a mere mortal while Ariel is beyond humanity at the spiritual end of the natural hierarchy. However, the authority that Prospero possesses over Ariel is liable to abuse. There would be a very human temptation for him to use Ariel to exact his revenge on the Court Party members, who are effectively at his mercy, because of an inherent susceptibility to feelings of resentment, anger and revenge due to the injustice of 12 years past. This is Prospero's test as a ruler, not only in his treatment of the Court Party but also in his treatment of Ariel. He must exhibit benevolence and temperance before he can pass this test. Initially, there are lapses in Prospero's control over his anger when, as Ariel asks for his freedom, Prospero replies wit...

... middle of paper ...

...Restoration Tragicomedy." ELH 51.3 (Fall 1984): 447-64.

Hill, Christopher. The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution. London: Temple Smith, 1972.

Maguire, Nancy Klein. Regicide and Restoration: English Tragicomedy, 1660-1671. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992.

Novak, Maximillian, and George R. Guffey, eds. The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island. Works of John Dryden vol. X. Berkeley: U of California P, 1970. 1-103.

Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985.

Spencer, Christopher, ed. The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island. Five Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1965. 109-99.

Wolf, A. A History of Science, Technology and Philosophy in the 16th and 17th Centuries. Vol. 2. New York: Harper, 1959.
Get Access