Explore Shakespeare’s presentation of Prospero in The Tempest. Definition of good as it is in the Chambers Dictionary, 1999; “good, having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; virtuous; pious; benevolent; well-behaved…” Definition of evil as it is in the Chambers Dictionary, 1999; “evil, wicked or bad mischievous; very disagreeable or angry; unfortunate…” In The Tempest, one is initially confused by Shakespeare’s portrayal of Prospero, which appears to reveal a man torn between his good and bad intentions. He uses magic for both benign and malignant reasons and could be interpreted as a mixture of both a good man and an evil man.
The plot belongs to the world of myth and folklore. In media res Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, and his young daughter Miranda were exiled to a nameless and barren island, by Prospero’s ambitious brother, Antonio. Prospero uses his time on the island to develop his skills in magic. With this magical power he is able to control the “airy spirit” Ariel, and the “savage and deformed slave” Caliban whom he keeps as servants. The title relates to these chores that Prospero makes Caliban and Ariel do as the tempest which causes the ‘enemy’ characters to appear on the island is fabricated by Ariel, who is under Prospero’s command.
Caliban, a product of a sexual union between a witch and an incubus, fascinates the audience almost immediately as their attention is drawn to his name, whether it be an anagram of “cannibal” or if it originates from ‘Carib”, which is a term for the savage inhabitants of the New World. Here Shakespeare has purposely given him a name relating to two different things which makes the audience consider his character before he has even entered the stage. Prospero, left to his own devices on the island, learns much about how to control nature, the elements and people and immediately, selfishly becomes the ‘ruler’ of the island.
After discovering that Caliban tried to rape Miranda in a frantic attempt to “people else This isle with Calibans” Prospero threatens Caliban with painful punishments and orders him to leave, which he obeys. Throughout the play, Prospero exploits Caliban as a slave, using him to get logs and go on errands for him and Miranda. This is Caliban’s punishment for his attempted rape. Prospero feels that this is the right thing to do and that Caliban deserves to be punished for this terrible thing he attempted to do, however, he does not see how Caliban might feel about his island being taken away from him.
Considering this point, Caliban is also an uncivilised creature when Prospero arrives on the island with a beautiful daughter in tow so when Caliban sees that he has got a chance to breed, he takes it. Then when Prospero reacts, with good reason, nonetheless, too harshly, he illustrates the fact that Prospero is narrow-minded, as he cannot see the other point of view. It also proves that he is quite stubborn as he will not admit that he was wrong in usurping the island from Caliban despite the fact that Prospero, of all people, should know how it feels to have something precious taken away from him.
Shakespeare presents Prospero in this way to make the audience feel that he is very hypocritical. Prospero takes the island away from Caliban when really he should know that it is wrong. Although Caliban should not have tried to rape Miranda, he was on the island first and then Prospero came along and took his island from him; “This island’s mine by Sycorax my mother, Which thou tak’st from me.” Caliban talks of how Prospero was so courteous to him when they arrived on the island so Caliban showed him all the “qualities o’th’isle” and now Prospero keeps him imprisoned like a pig, “and here you sty me In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from The rest o’the’island.”
When Prospero addresses Caliban, he degrades him to such names as a “tortoise”, a “fish” and a “beast”. He is also then insultingly referred to “This misshapen knave” and as one who is “as disproportion’d in his manners As in his shape”. However, the audience must remember that Prospero, who described Caliban in these terms, has deliberately enslaved and corrupted him.
Therefore, we need to bear this in mind when judging Caliban’s character from the descriptions Prospero has given us, as demeaning a person by the use of humiliating language is a well-known ruse used by people who wish to vanquish others. Shakespeare refers to Caliban in such a manner using Prospero to show that Prospero has no respect for him despite the fact that Caliban has been enslaved and has obeyed his commands willingly. This proves that Prospero, after, years of dedicated and committed service from Caliban, still will not believe that maybe it is time to release Caliban from his power.
Ariel is a spirit of the air. Shakespeare names him this to illustrate the fact that he is magical, he performs stunts for Prospero. He is quick and elegant, airy and occasionally playful. In media res, Ariel was captured in a tree by Sycorax, Caliban’s mother. Twelve years later Prospero released him. Prospero then keeps Ariel as a slave until the end of the play, where he sets him free. However, throughout the play, Ariel wants absolute liberty and Prospero keeps reminding him of his obligations and the gratitude that Ariel should have towards him for releasing him; “Dost thou forget From what a torment I did free thee?” This shows that Prospero feels that Ariel owes his life to Prospero for freeing him, this is proved when Ariel asks for ‘my liberty’ Prospero replies with a threat to lock Ariel away for another twelve years:
“If thou murmur’st, I will rend an oak And peg thee in his knotty entrails till Thou hast howled away twelve winters.” Is the way that Prospero takes advantage of Ariel right or does Ariel owe it to him? It seems that Prospero has forgotten all senses of his complete good natured character. Ariel deserves the freedom he pleads for because, as he reminds Prospero, he has never lied or cheated and has been faithful to him throughout:”Remember I have done thee worthy service, Told thee no lies, made no mistakings, served Without or grudge or grumblings…”