Prospero's magical powers allow him to single-handedly take control of a situation of slowly developing chaos, caused by his eviction from Milan, and turn the plot of The Tempest. Prospero has powers over his surroundings, far greater than those of an ordinary mortal, and he uses them for good in the course of the play. This essay will discuss whether Prospero combines his magic with power over the self, and whether Shakespeare actually presents him as an ideal ruler.
Although we hear the story of Prospero's eviction from Milan from him, the manner in which he tells his history inspires distrust -- Prospero is pompous, self-pitying and apparently unforgiving. The nature of Prospero's rule as revealed by Act I is not pleasant. When duke of Milan, he trusted his brother Antonio too much, and consequently nearly lost his life, as well as his dukedom. On the island, he befriended Caliban, brought him into his house and treated him as a member of the family -- and repeated the pattern of trust, which was again betrayed, when Caliban attempted to rape Miranda. Although Prospero learns from this second betrayal, he goes to the other extreme. Prospero's apparently tyrannical stance is revealed in his exile and verbal abuse of Caliban, as well as his tirade and threat to imprison Ariel again "till / Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters".
Aside from the sin of tyranny, Prospero also seems unforgiving towards Caliban and Antonio. When we see Caliban willingly serving Stephano and Trinculo, we begin to realize that Caliban is not evil of himself, and could in fact be a most affectionate servant. Seeing Caliban fear cramps and speak of Prospero as a "tyrant", Shakespear...
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Shakespeare does not present us the perfect ruler immediately. Instead, he develops Prospero from a basically good, but flawed man, to one who, while retaining some vanity and therefore some imperfection, will certainly act in a manner befitting an ideal leader.
Works Cited and Consulted
Corfield, Cosmo. "Why Does Prospero Abjure His 'Rough Magic,'" Shakespeare Quarterly. 36 (1985): 31-4 8.
Levin, Harry. "Two Magian Comedies: 'The Tempest' and 'The Alchemist,'" Shakespeare Survey . 22 (1969): 47-58.
Miko, Stephen J. "Tempest," ELH. 49 (1982): 1-17.
Mowat, Barbara A. "Prospero, Agrippa, and Hocus Pocus," English Literary Renaissance. 11 (1981): 281-3 03.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Frank Kermode. London: Methuen, 1962.
West, Robert. Shakespeare and the Outer Mystery. Lexington: UP of Kentucky, 1968.
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