Themes of Forgiveness in The Tempest by William Shakespeare

Good Essays
The Tempest has many themes including reconciliation and forgiveness However, while it is clear that the theme of forgiveness is the main theme of the play, what is up for debate is to what extent the author realizes this forgiveness. After reading the attitudes and actions of the major characters in the play, specifically Prospero, little, if any, true forgiveness and reconciliation is shown in The Tempest.

A strong Christian lesson on the true nature of forgiveness can be found in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

But I say to unto you which hear, love your

enemies, do good to them which hate


Bless them that curse you, and pray for them

which despiseth you… For if ye love them

which love you, what thank have ye? For

sinners also do even the same. But love

your enemies, and do good, and lend,

hoping for nothing again… (Luke 6:27-35).

Prospero’s conduct from the moment the play begins seems to contradict the basic lessons of Christian forgiveness. Prospero’s enemies are within his grasp and Prospero seizes the opportunity for revenge. “Desire for vengeance has apparently lain dormant in Prospero through the years of banishment, and now, with the sudden advent of his foes, the great wrong of twelve years before is stirringly present again, arousing the passions and stimulating the will to action” (Davidson 225). Though Prospero does not intend to harm anyone and he asks his servant, "But are they, Ariel, safe?" (1.1.218), he does want to put the men through the pain and agony of what they believe is a horrible disaster resulting in the death of the prince, Ferdinand.

For Prospero those who wronged him must suffer for what they did to him before he offers them his forgiveness, even if it means ...

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...o’s brief "pardon me" is enough to please Prospero: "First, noble friend/Let me embrace thine age, whose honor cannot be measured or confined" (5.1.124-6). This confirms Prospero’s penchant for forgiveness and the reconciliation of the two men. Does Prospero truly forgive those who "hate" him? His reaction to Antonio speaks volumes:

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother

Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive

Thy rankest fault, -- all of them; and require

My dukedom of thee, which perforce, I know,

Thou must restore. (5.1.130-4)

Prospero goes through the motions of forgiveness, but his sincerity is lost to us. Moreover, there is clearly no reconciliation amongst Prospero, Sebastian, and Antonio. Prospero still considers Antonio a "most wicked sir" (5.1.130) and Antonio, focused on slaying the island fiends, will not even acknowledge Prospero.
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