Discuss the Theme of Power in “The Tempest”
The story of Prospero and his daughter Miranda presents an interesting perspective on the nature of power. The action takes place on a distant island, emphasizing the way that human beings are deposited on this earth with very little guidance on how to survive and make their own way through life. Prospero is a patriarchal figure, who assumes control of all the beings in this little society. His character shows the unthinking arrogance of mannking, who assumes the right to determine what shall be done with all creatures . In a god-like way Prospero imprisons Ariel and Caliban, and indeed his own daughter, whom he keeps in a state of ignorance.
The relationship between Prospero and Ariel is very plainly one of lord and servant, since the spirit Ariel is eternally grateful that Prospero has released it from bondage. Caliban, however, reacts very differently, with curses, and identifies the source of Prospero’s power “Remember first to possess his books, for without them, he’s but a sot as I am! (Act 3, Scene 2). In Caliban’s eyes, Prospero is “a tyrant, a sorcerer, that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island.” (Act 3, Scene 2) The message of the play is that power can breed both devotion and hate in those who are dominated.
In the case of Miranda, Prospero purports to love her, but he has prevented her from gaining access to any influences but that of himself and his spiritual servants. Miranda is not even smart enough to work out that she is trapped by her father’s absolute power over her, and this means that she cannot develop into a full, adult human being. Perhaps it is this realization that prompts Prospero to tell her about his past, and let her meet her first male human being. Significantly, Miranda forgets her father’s commandments when she is captivated by the handsomeness of Fernando, and weeps when Fernando confesses that he loves her. She is singularly unprepared for the world of ordinary men and women, and this is all Prospero’s doing. In the end Miranda gives herself to literally the first man who comes along, thus perpetuating her dependence on the male of the species. This is a disappointing turn of events from a modern point of view, but given the position of women in society in Shakespeare’s time, it may have appeared to be a happy ending for Miranda.
Prospero has the last words at the ending of the play, and he reveals the mixed feelings that he has at losing his magical power: “my ending is despair, unless I be relieved by prayer”. He begs indulgence from the audience, and it seems has learned the important lesson, wielding power is also a sort of prison, and that in abasing himself to the point of asking for indulgence for his past mistakes, he drops the pretence of being a god, and finds out at last what it means to be truly human. Everyone else is forgiven and freed, except Prospero, who must now wait and see what the highest power of all, namely God, will make of him at the judgement day.
Shakespere, William. “The Tempest.” Available at: http://shakespeare.mit.edu/tempest/full.html