The Tempest: A Critical Analysis Essay
The Tempest: A Critical Analysis
I have answered the following question (my thesis is underlined):
3) It has been theorized that Shakespeare based the character Prospero on himself. Where can you see this? What do Prosper and the play reveal about the theater? How does Prosperos final monologue finally reveal?
In his play The Tempest Shakespeare gives us an allegory of the artist as creator. It is his last play with full authorship, and it seems that the playwright wants to bid farewell to his art with a distinctive statement about the true function of the author. In it he shows us how the author is in complete control of the world he creates, and that he is able to impose his own values on the character he creates as he guides their fates.
From the first howling tempest that wrecks a ship peopled by kings and nobles, to the last wringing of applause from the audience that secures his final release, Prospero is the author of all that takes place in the time frame of the play. Every happening on the island is planned by Prospero and is meticulously executed by means of his magic. However, it is a mistake to judge them as being mere puppets to Prospero’s urging.
His magic is the fruit of the pure pursuit of knowledge; it is not mere trickery or hypnotization that he effects. He does not induce emotions onto those that fall under his spell. He merely shepherds the pre-existing emotions, so that they play out towards a just conclusion. Justice is seen entirely from the perspective of Prospero. He has suffered through the treachery of his brother Antonio, lost the Dukedom of Milan and is exiled on a desert island. He is now resolved to correct this wrong-doing, to which purpose delves into the art of magic on his desert vigil with his daughter.
We know that Shakespeare identifies with Prospero by the repeated parallelisms between Prospero’s world and the theatre. Books are the root cause of his downfall; he confides to us that his avidity for books distracted him from duties as the Duke of Milan, which allowed his brother and rival Dukes to plot his removal. Books again become his means to restoration of his sovereignty, for they are the source of his magic on his desert island of exile. He wields his magic to become the arbiter of the fates of all who have ventured on his island, managing the events with the precision of a chess game, until he has managed to correct the injustice done against him 12 years previously. Shakespeare is telling us that it is within the powers of the author to wring justice within his art.
Yet he laments “We are such stuff / As dreams are made on, and our little life / Is rounded with a sleep” (4.1.155-157). Justice that is wrought within the confines of the theatre is in vain if there be no path back to real life. To this end Prospero seeks release after he has drowned his books: “Bury it certain fathoms in the earth, / And deeper than did ever plummet sound / I’ll drown my book” (5.1.55-57). This act is symbolic of the playwright closing his play. The make-believe world of fiction needs to come to an end, and Prospero implores this end entreatingly. In order for his art to succeed he must step off the stage.
The entreaty is made most specific in Prospero’s parting monologue. This is a direct address to the audience asking for them to release him from the confines of the theatre. Now that his “charms are all o’erthrown” he is sinking in strength and is at the mercy of the audience. He asks them not to confine him in his world of fiction, especially so since the real world beckons, where he has regained his lost Dukedom. His “project fails” if they do not join in with the applause of their hands and cheer with their voices, which becomes the breath on which he will be able to set sail back to Milan (Epi. 1-12). By urging the audience to applause Shakespeare is in effect asking for the recognition of his art, for thereby lies its success.
Shakespeare, William. “The Tempest.” The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Vol. 3. Ed. Peter Alexander. London: Collins, 1965.