Prospero's Redemption in The Tempest

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Prospero's Redemption in The Tempest

"By him I'll be great Emperor of the world"

--Marlowe, Faustus

Prospero's intent throughout the course of The Tempest is neither to revenge himself upon his enemies, nor to reconcile himself with his estranged brother. It is, rather, to orchestrate the reclamation of his lost duchy, Milan, through both his magic and a shrewd manipulation of both the shipwrecked party and the islanders (Caliban and Miranda).

Prospero promotes both the mutual affections of Ferdinand and Miranda and the two regicidal conspiracies (Antonio's and Caliban's). Through the establishment of the graver conspiracy, and through the overwhelmingly magical nature of the island, he drives Alonso into a state of confusion from which any escape would be welcome. He turns Alonso's men against him and separates his son, inciting the paranoia and fear that come with an insecure station, while reminding him of his own fate twelve years prior—proof that such paranoia is not without foundation.

Prospero's magic is a display of power, a power which he only foretells renouncing. While in some stage productions Prospero will break a staff or burn a book, the text itself switches from a future tense first person description of the renunciation, in the play, to a past tense description, in the epilogue; the event itself is never enacted. The precise moment at which Prospero destroys his books, however, is irrelevant, as his power lies not so much in them as in Ariel. Ariel is not given freedom until the King's ship "shall catch/ [the] royal fleet far off . . . Ariel . . . that is thy charge" (V.1 315-17). By retaining Ariel after the reconciliation Prospero remains empowered, a necessity in the event that Alonso suffers ...

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...rother and open to sibling rivalry and betrayal, the bond of the new Milan is father-to-daughter. By advancing Miranda Prospero does advance himself, in that she is and will produce his legacy, but he also advances her of her own accord, as an act of love. The latter is the more virtuous, closer to the idyllic Milan Prospero would have shared with Antonio and the paradise that Gonzalo proposes to the shipwrecked party. Prospero summons the tempest to effect the calm that will follow, knowing the pieces will settle where he wants them.


Machiavelli, Niccolò. The Prince. Robert M. Adams, trans., ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1977. pp. vii.-75.

Marlowe, Christopher. Dr. Faustus. William Allan Neilson, ed. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Northrop Frye, ed. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.
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