An Examination of Music in The Tempest Essay

An Examination of Music in The Tempest Essay

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An Examination of Music in The Tempest


Compared to plays written for public playhouses, The Tempest offers a unique emphasis on music. Hiring extra musicians, along with the time constraints usually resulted in small attention given to this area (Long 95). Given the large degree of detail allotted to music in the play, it is believed the audience to have been upper class, however, music of The Tempest serves a variety of functions beyond that of mere entertainment. By exploring the evidence provided in The Tempest, we can reveal some of these functions that music serves in the play.

Direct roles of music in The Tempest:

Mental manipulation

Music in The Tempest is utilized by Ariel to manipulate his victims in a number of ways, one being a sleight of mind. Take away the enchanted island and Prospero's magic and music still holds a quality which enhances or detracts from one's mood; similarly, Ariel's songs seem to have a way of creeping into the mind of the listeners, but his gradually changes their very thoughts. Our first evidence of how this manipulation functions is Ariel's song sung to Ferdinand:

This music crept by me upon the waters,

Allaying both their fury and my passion

With its sweet air; thence I have follow'd it,

Or it hath drawn me rather. (1.2.391-95)

The music begins to work by evoking a state of passion, then playing upon this heightened sense of emotion, Ferdinand is drawn in a manner which seems similar to that of the call of the sirens. Ariel's playing and singing while invisible allows the music to be felt like a subtle presence, perhaps coming from the island, perhaps his own mind. Ferdinand is not sure whether it comes from the wat...


... middle of paper ...


...hich the play leads, it is the conflict in the struggle for the power it represents, and the resolution in the harmony it provides.



Works Cited

Gervinus, G. "A review of The Tempest." Shakespearean Criticism 8 (1877)

Johnson, W. "The Genesis of Ariel" Shakespeare Quarterly 11.3 (1951): 205-10.

Long, John. Shakespeare's Use of Music: The Final Comedies. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 1961.

"Other Voices: The Sweet, Dangerous Air(s) of Shakespeare's Tempest." Shakespeare Studies 24 (1996): 241-74

Palmer, D.J. The Tempest. London: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1968.

Scott, Mark. Shakespearean Criticism. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1989.

Smith, Hallett. Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Tempest. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1969.

The Riverside Shakespeare. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1997.

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