Throughout the years since The Tempest was first published in the 1623 Folio, there has been much debate among Shakespeare’s contemporaries and critics as to the significance of the figure of Prospero and other major characters featured in the work. In this paper, I want to examine the figure of Prospero and his relationship with the character Ariel. In doing this, I want to show how Prospero is a figure for the artist, how Ariel is a figure for the poetic imagination, and how the relationship between Prospero and Ariel explores the relationship between the artist and his or her poetic imagination. By showing this, I wish to argue that Shakespeare’s intention in portraying Prospero and Ariel in this relationship is to comment on the values of the Humanist Renaissance in England and the role and responsibility of the poet in expressing those values.
In The Tempest, Prospero is a wizard who is able to perform a variety of enchantments and spells through the use of his books, his staff, and his spirits of nature that he is able to control, the most important spirit being Ariel, because of his books. Throughout the play, Prospero controls most of the drama and events that occur to the other characters wandering in his island. Prospero continually calls this his “art”. He uses said art to create and control people and events to perform or happen the way he wants them to occur. In the following lines, Prospero expresses this idea: “Spirits, which by mine art / I have from their confines called to enact / My present fancies” (4.1.21-22). In the particular scene that the lines are taken from, Prospero’s “fancies” involve the masque that he has put on for Miran...
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...believe that Shakespeare’s main belief is that an artist, while observing and respecting the greatness and richness of the Classics, should not be limited or obligated to the Classical standards. The artist’s obligation is to create his or her own standards which best enable him or her to wield and use the poetic imagination, the same way in which Prospero uses Ariel to put forth his project.
Overall, Shakespeare explores the relationship between the artist and the poetic imagination through Prospero and Ariel in The Tempest. In doing so, he examined and puts forth the idea of the role and responsibility of the artist in the humanist renaissance of not solely being limited to an adherence to the Classical standards, but to using the poetic imagination to the best of the artist’s ability in creating his or her own world through his or her own standards.
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