Many scholars argue that, along with Shakespeare’s other late romances, The Tempest is a play about reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith in future generations to seal such reconciliation. However, while it is clear that the theme of forgiveness is at the heart of the drama, what is up for debate is to what extent the author realizes this forgiveness. An examination of the attitudes and actions of the major characters in the play, specifically Prospero, illustrates that there is little, if any, true forgiveness and reconciliation in The Tempest.
We must first set a standard by which to judge the effectiveness of forgiveness in the play. Undoubtedly, the most important 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 you
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 tenets of Christian forgiveness. Fortune has brought his enemies 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). While it is true that Prospero does not intend to harm anyone on the ship, and asks...
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...l of us ourselves,
Where no man was his own. (5.1.204-12)
With these words of hope invested in the new royal couple, Alonso and Prospero rejoice together as the play comes to a close. But, despite the traditional happy ending befitting a Shakespeare comedy, ultimately, we are left with the feeling that true forgiveness and reconciliation have not been realized.
Davidson, Frank. “The Tempest: An Interpretation.” In The Tempest: A Casebook. Ed. D.J. Palmer. London: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1968. 225.
Kermode, Frank. Introduction. The Tempest. By William Shakespeare. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958. xlii.
Solomon, Andrew. “A Reading of the Tempest.” In Shakespeare’s Late Plays. Ed. Richard C. Tobias and Paul G. Zolbrod. Athens: Ohio UP, 1974. 232.
Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. Ed. Frank Kermode. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1958.
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