The Tempest: Analysis of Prospero
Shakespeare demonstrates the corrosive effects of imperialism by generating an atmosphere inscribed in avarice and greed. The chief example of this can be seen through the interactions between Antonio and Prospero. Antonio betrays Prospero with his taking control over the government. Prospero is shocked, stating My brother and thy uncle, call’d Antonio “ I pray thee, mark me “ that a brother should be so perfidious.
At first, Caliban resembles a freak, whose greed, lust, and laziness contrast with the noble attributes of the humans around him. But as the story progresses, Caliban seems less a monster and more a kindred spirit to Antonio, Duke of Milan. As the characters reflect on what it means to be a man, they cite many of Caliban’s most prominent—and least flattering—qualities. Through Caliban, Shakespeare implies that monster and man are one and the same. When Shakespeare introduces us to Caliban, he emphasizes Caliban’s most repugnant qualities. The son of a witch and the devil, Caliban did not have human companions until Prospero and Miranda washed up on his island. Instead of showing gratitude to his new friends for their efforts to teach him English, Caliban attempts to rape Miranda, to “people the island with Calibans.” Although he could have tried to mitigate the harsh punishment he received by showing remorse for the attempted rape, Caliban continues to insist he did nothing wrong and to curse his human captors. He conspires with a drunkard to overthrow Prospero and persists in believing that Miranda is a pawn who will gladly bear children for anyone who asks. He is a brute—idiotic, foul-tempered, and abhorrent. Yet Shakespeare implicitly asks if Caliban is as different from his human neighbors as he seems. The character Antonio is not only human but also a powerful duke—and yet he shares many of Caliban’s nastiest tendencies. Like Caliban, he commits a form of rape (by violating and stealing Prospero’s sovereignty), and like Caliban, he conspires for yet more unearned power in the course of the play. Caliban’s attempts to incite treason within Stephano and Trinculo mirror Antonio’s attempts to put Sebastian on Alonso’s throne. Indeed, Antonio shows himself to be more monstrous than a monster, for unlike Caliban, he cannot excuse his behavior with drunkenness or genetics. (His mother was not a witch, but the same woman who gave birth to the generally moral duke, Prospero.) In fact, Shakespeare suggests that in some ways Caliban is more sympathetic than his human counterpart: Caliban gives a beautiful speech on the natural wonders of the island, whereas Antonio can only stupidly curse its “barrenness.” Though human, Antonio repeatedly acts like a beast.
Apart from the reoccurring theme of forgiveness and compassion discussed at length earlier in the essay, Shakespeare conveys the topic of colonization in his work. As noted by Asif (2017), the historical context of the drama is linked to the active process of British colonization. Through relationships between Prospero and Caliban, the author condemns the unjustified inequality in conquers’ attitudes toward natives. Furthermore, Shakespeare takes a step forward, suggesting that colonization created a basis for slavery and racism. A vivid example of the statement above is Sebastian’s comment regarding Alonso’s permission for his daughter to marry an African (Asif, 2017). In The Tempest, Shakespeare thrives on explaining that native people should not be humiliated for their order of life and adherence to old traditions. Another significant theme present in the drama is magic, illusion, and true identity. Tuglu (2016) suggested that Shakespeare’s decision to incorporate supernatural powers in the play is intended at revealing characters’ and the playwright’s true selves. From one perspective, Prospero’s magic and illusion help the audience to see the corrupt nature of Antonio and Sebastien. Another interpretation concerns the fact that The Tempest is Shakespeare’s last theatrical creation (Tuglu, 2016). Similar to the way Prospero sets his offenders free with magic, the playwright takes a final bow with the final lines of the epilogue, wherein he asks the audience to release him with their applause. “Let your indulgence set me free” (Shakespeare, 2013, p. 233). While some literary critics still argue about the relevance of this phrase to the end of Shakespeare’s career, a clear connection can be seen between the writer’s actions and the last words of Prospero.
All things considered, Prospero's humanity is clearly obvious in his treatment of Antonio, whom he calls traitor but whom he declines to treat as a traitor. Another example of Prospero's goodness is when he stops Alonso from apologizing to Miranda, telling him that there is no need for more amends. By the play's conclusion, it is clear that Prospero is just and fair, in addition to intelligent.
Asif, M. (2017) ‘The Tempest: a postcolonial analysis’. Journal of Social Sciences, 8(1), pp. 192-209.
Blair, S., Pettit, M. and Page, P. (2018) Shakespeare’s The Tempest: a graphic edition with CSEC study guide. London: Hachette UK.
Shakespeare, W. (2013) The Tempest: Evans Shakespeare edition. Edited by Grace Tiffany. New York: Simon and Schuster.