Role of Government in the Tempest

Role of Government in the Tempest

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Government plays an important role in The Tempest. It is because of the importance of government that Prospero has been trapped on this island and it is because of government that the story continues to progress. The key element in the play and its heavy subject of government is the character Prospero. He is the law of the island, and he has the power to achieve any goal he so desires. The visitors to the island, mostly political figures from Italy, depict another facet of government in the play, the opposition. After all, Prospero was once the Duke of Milan, but that position was usurped from him by his brother Antonio. There is also a general idea that Shakespeare was demonstrating his own opinion of what government meant to him, especially that of his own country. Government in the play The Tempest is most strongly represented not only by Prospero and those surrounding him, but by the bard himself.

Prospero, the protagonist of the play, is perhaps one of the more controversial characters in literary history. Prospero is essentially on a quest to right the wrongs that he and his daughter Miranda have had to suffer. He sees himself as a bringer of justice, and that he is morally correct in doing what he is doing. He was formerly the Duke of Milan, a fairly high position in regards to political power in Italy. One day, however, he was stabbed in the proverbial back by his own flesh and blood, his brother Antonio. Antonio removed Prospero of his position and took the reigns of Duke for himself. He then banished Prospero and Miranda out to sea, where they eventually ended up on the island. Now this sounds unjust, and of course it is. But Prospero then begins to contradict his own self. The island that he and Miranda come upon is already inhabited by a witch, Sycorax, and her son Caliban. Prospero, an extremely powerful man, looks down on Sycorax because she is a witch, and he proceeds to take over the island and run it as himself. This all of a sudden sounds like a familiar tale. Sycorax eventually passes away, and Prospero enslaves her son, Caliban, to do all of Prospero's bidding. Prospero also comes across a prisoner, Ariel, who has been imprisoned for twelve years. Ariel is an interesting character in that he is almost a spirit-like entity.

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He has the ability to turn invisible and follow anyone he so chooses. As a stipulation for Ariel's freedom, Prospero enslaves Ariel, along now with Caliban. It is becoming more and more evident that Prospero's ideal government does not include working as a unit to help the people and the environment to prosper, Prospero uses anyone and anything that he can to achieve his own, ultimate goals. Prospero is essentially running a dictatorship. This does not seem to be an impressive means for a person who was put into a similar position himself. Prospero uses his powers to make Ariel and Caliban do his bidding, even going so far as to physically abusing Caliban with his gift of nature. Prospero has now put his own daughter, Miranda, under the subject of his dictatorship. He does not allow Miranda to be a free person. He controls her in every aspect of her life. He makes her decisions for her and does not even help her to leave the island, which would clearly be best for her. Though he thinks that he is doing the right thing, Prospero is clearly drunk with power. His ability to govern those who are weaker than he convinces Prospero to remain on the island. Miranda is missing out on a normal, healthy life, and Prospero is treating Caliban like scum because he believes him to be some sort of a savage monster. Prospero also exploits the ignorance of Ariel. Ariel actually believes that Prospero is his friend, that he likes Ariel for who he is, when in reality Prospero just needs Ariel to continue to do his dirty work. Now, arguments could be made towards the end of the play as to the nature of their relationship, but, at least in the early stages, Prospero is simply using Ariel. This is just not good government. Prospero was taken advantage of, and now looks to right his misadventure by pulling the same stunts on people that he views as socially below him. Prospero is a dictator with a vast superiority complex.

Eventually a group of royals from Italy, including the usurping Antonio, find their way to the island, thanks to another example of Prospero abusing his power. While on the island, Prospero's attitude is hardly different. He sends Ariel, with his ability of invisibility, to follow the sailors and cause them grief. At the same time, Ferdinand, the prince of Naples and son of Alonso, is separated from the rest of the crew and stumbles across Miranda. The two fall in love at first sight. Prospero, however, emerges as the dominating force behind the relationship. Though he ultimately allows the two to wed, he is now attempting to control Miranda's relationships. He does not allow his daughter any sense of free will. It is understandable that he wants to protect her, but his thirst for power that he discovered on the island has transpired into his relationship with his daughter. The man continues to abuse his power and run the island as some sort of Soviet province.

In a subplot of full of hoodwinking, Antonio and Sebastian, two members of the boat crew stranded on the island, conspire to kill Alonso and Gonzalo, so they may take the throne, much like what Antonio did to his brother. This is an obvious attempt at overthrowing a government and clearly is not a practice of a good or graceful governing body.

The Tempest is said to contain Shakespeare himself as a sort of background character. It is believed that this story conveys his personal opinion about the colonial attitude of his government of Britain around his time. They marched their way into African colonies at proceeded to take over, as uninvited guests. They depicted the African villagers as mere savages that posed no threat to their empire, and were easily manipulated. This attitude also carried over to the British colonization of the Americas, where Native Americans were viewed as brutish idiots that wanted nothing but good liquor. In The Tempest, the character Prospero is the British government. Upon being thrown from his own home, he ended up on the island that was already inhabited by Sycorax and Caliban. Prospero viewed Caliban as nothing more than a stupid, unkempt savage who did not deserve Prospero's respect, and certainly never received it. Prospero spoke volumes to Shakespeare's beliefs in his government's superiority complex.

In conclusion, Prospero's idea of government is a terrible picture. He has just caused the same pain he once experienced and spread that pain elsewhere, but to his advantage. He attempts to control every aspect of everyone around him as a personal means to regain his dukedom. Simply put, Prospero runs a bad government.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Harbrace Anthology of Literature. 3rd Ed. Eds. Jon C. Stoll, Raymond E. Jones, and Rick Bowers. Toronto: Nelson, 2002. 441-94

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