biblical themes in shakespeares the tempest Essay

biblical themes in shakespeares the tempest Essay

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Biblical Themes in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

     Shakespeare is one of the most prolific and admired writers who ever lived. He certainly knew his craft and was familiar with all of the literature available at the time. One of the greatest books ever written was of course the bible. Written over the course of more than a thousand years it is a miracle in itself that the book exists. Shakespeare knew his bible, and his work often incorporated and examined biblical themes. Shakespeare’s last completed work was The Tempest, and it is as complex and deeply moving as any of his works. Readers of the play respond on a much deeper level than the literal. In and of itself it is actually a very simple tale, it is the characters who are representative of so many differing and stimulating aspects of the human condition that make the work so evocative and interesting.
     Prospero is the picture of a man in two different aspects. On one hand, he is made in the image of God and given dominion and control over the world created in The Tempest. On the other hand he represents a fallen man who is in exile from his home. Both of these types can be found in the book of Genesis. God himself is in control of his world, and able to manipulate the world in order to stand back and see how the players will react. God and Prospero are both willing to accomplish their goals through imperfect means. When Jacob steals Esau’s inheritance right, the younger son triumphs over the older son by dishonest means. In the end it accomplishes God’s goal, so it is allowed to happen. Just as Joseph’s mistreatment by his brothers and his imprisonment because of Potiphar’s wife cause him great anguish, but move him closer to accomplishing God’s plan. Prospero is a scholar who has spent years in his books perfecting his magical powers. Clearly the last twelve years has been spent developing the power to both punish and forgive his enemies. Prospero controls even the inner workings of Caliban’s body. He is able to punish Caliban physically with his power, in order to completely control him and accomplish his means. Prospers also completely controls Ariel.
     According to Steven Marx, both the Bible and the Tempest share the form of creation myth. Marx suggests that Genesis’s God and The Tempest’s Prospero share the roles...


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...parallel and reflective storylines. Shakespeare had to have been among the most voracious and intelligent readers ever to have opened a book. Aspects of many of the most scholarly works available in his day can be found in his works. Throughout my research for this paper, several sources mentioned a series of pamphlets concerning the survival of some mariners in the Bermuda Islands after a tempest in 1609. Until then the Bermudas were popularly thought to be inhabited by demons and fairies. Many believe that the idea of survival on a lush, remote and magical island first influenced his conception of The Tempest. That storm certainly turned into a blessing for all of us who so greatly enjoy and appreciate Shakespeare’s works.

1.     Marx, Steven. Shakespeare and the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
2.     Feuer, Lois. “Happy Families: Repentance and Restoration in “The Tempest” and the Joseph Narrative.” Philological Quarterly 76 (1997): 3-6.00
3.     Feuer, Lois. “Happy Families: Repentance and Restoration in “The Tempest” and the Joseph Narrative.” Philological Quarterly 76 (1997): 22-26.

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