Bravery performs a very important role in The Tempest. Different than a motif, the theme of bravery actually takes form in Shakespeare's play and develops the play itself. However, like a motif, bravery is used intermittently throughout the play in different form and context. It captures different meanings and performs different capacities erratically.
A denotative definition from the 15th century, according to the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary (10 ed.), portrays brave as meaning, "[from Old Italian and Spanish, meaning courageous, wild; probably from Latin, meaning barbarous]." The dictionary then defines brave as "a. having courage: dauntless b. making fine show: colorful, c. excellent, splendid." All of these distinct definitions find their capacity in The Tempest. Prospero could be said to define bravery when speaking to Ariel when he likens Ariel's bravery to being "firm, so constant...coil would not infect his reason"(I.ii.299). Ariel's spirit is courageous and wild for he takes on the powers that be in order for Prospero to enact his revenge on the usurping Duke of Milan.
Let's look at another example of bravery. Miranda likens the form of Ferdinand to bravery. Her young, inexperienced eyes have not seen a young man basically rise out of the sea before. What wonder and show this must be to her concept of courage and splendid which are all definitions of brave. Prospero even infers that Miranda herself is "more braver"(I.ii.672), than Ferdinand. I believe that his foundation for this belief lies in our definition of brave in the aforementioned dictionary from 1546, "to face or endure with courage." Miranda has endured much in her...
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...er, Prospero designates Ariel "brave" because of his uninfected "reason" (I.ii.299-301). So let's review. Brave is monster, abominable, womanly, unequaled, propagation, diligent, conscientious towards directions and reasonable. "Is it so brave..."(III.ii.153)? Yes, and everything else.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest, ed. Frank Kermode, with an introduction by Frank Kermode, (Arden, 1964)
Montaigne, Selected Essays of Montaigne, trans. John Florio (1603) ed.Walter Kaiser, with an introduction by Walter Kaiser, (Riverside, 1964)
Curt Breight, " 'Treason doth never prosper': The Tempest and the discourse of treason, Shakespeare Quarterly, 41, no.1, (1990)
Eric Cheyfitz, The Poetics of Imperialism: Translation and Colonization from The Tempest to Tarzan, (Oxford University Press, 1991)
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