Themes in the Tempest Essays

Themes in the Tempest Essays

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Themes in the Tempest

 
  The Tempest is generally considered to be Shakespeare's last sole-authored play. The play draws a number of oppositions, some of which it dramatises, and some of which it only implies. Prospero, a figure exhibiting many resemblances to the Elizabethan idea of the 'Mage', (of whom the best known is probably Dr. John Dee), is opposed to both his corrupt brother, usurper of his role as Duke of Milan, and to Sycorax, an evil witch and mother of the 'deformed slave' Caliban. Sycorax does not enter the action of the play, having died before it opens, but enough is made of her evil disposition and behaviour to show Prospero as a model of human virtue in comparison. This despite Prospero's own use of magic to accomplish his will, and his bullying of the spirit Ariel and his threats to and punishments of Caliban. Prospero's role is central to the play, he is in control of the action throughout, through the exercise of his 'Art'. A further contast is drawn between Miranda, Prospero's daughter, and caliban. Bothe were brought up together by Prospero since his arrival on Caliban's Island, but Caliban has not responded suitably to Prospero's civilising education. Miranda, however, in line with the tenor of Shakespeare's late plays in particular, is a model of chastity and virtue. Caliban's 'ingratitude' would seem to result from what we would call his genetic inheritance. Miranda calls him

 

Abhorred slave

Which any print of goodness will not take (1:2:353-354) [FN1]

 

And Prospero

 

A devil, a born devil, on whose nature

Nurture can never stick; on whom my pains,

Humanely taken, all, all lost, quite lost. (4:1:188-190)

 

The opposition of nature and nurture is made...


... middle of paper ...


...ntual relinquishing of power which entitles him to regain it. In my opinion, Shakespeare is associating true authority with renunciation, not with the exercise of tyrannical power.

 

NOTES

1. All citations and references are to Frank Kermode's Arden Edition, to the excellent introduction of which I am indebted throughout.

2. In the Masque, the anti-masque is a comedic prelude in which the villainous characters (of lower-class origin) plot against virtue and established power-relations. In the Masque proper divine beings (frequently played by courtiers) would step in and defeat the evil plot, whereupon the cast would leave the stage and dance with the audience.

3. Paul Brown, 'This Thing of Darkness I Acknowledge Mine' (in) Political Shakespeare, (eds) J. Dollimore & A. Sinfield, Manchester University Press, Manchester, (1996), pp. 48-71.

 

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