The Tempest- Themes

The Illusion of Justice The Tempest tells a very straightforward story involving Prospero’s quest to re-establish justice after the usurption of his throne. The idea of justice in the play is highly subjective as the play only puts forward the view of only one character. Though Prospero presents himself as a victim of injustice, his view of justice and injustice seem almost hypocritical. However, through his use of magic and tricks that echo the special effects and spectacles of the theater, Prospero gradually persuades the characters as well as the audience of the rightness of his case. As he does so, the ambiguities surrounding his methods slowly resolve themselves, so that at the end of the play he is simply an old man responsible for the pleasure of the audience.At many moments throughout the play, Prospero’s sense of justice seems extremely one sided. Moreover because the play offers no notion of higher order, the play is morally ambiguous. As the play progresses, it becomes more involved with the idea of creativity and art and Prospero’s role begins to mirror that of an author. Due to this, Prospero’s sense of justice seems sympathetic. In addition to this his methods used to achieve his idea of justice mirror the machinations of the artist who seeks to enable others to see his view of the world.
The difficulty of distinguishing men form monsters When Miranda saw Ferdinand for the first time, she claims that he was the third man that she had ever seen, the other two being Prospero and Caliban. However in her first conversation with Caliban Miranda and Prospero say very little that reveal that they think Caliban is human. Caliban’s exact nature continues to be slightly ambiguous later. Miranda and Prospero both have contradictory views of Caliban’s Humanity as they believe that their teachings has lifted him from his formerly brutish status ; on the other hand they seem to see him as inherently brutish. Caliban claims that he was kind to Prospero who repaid him with imprisonment but Prospero also suggests that his current attitude toward Caliban is due to the fact that Caliban attempted to rape his dearly beloved daughter. Which character the audience decides to believe depends on whether it views Caliban as inherently brutish, or as made brutish by oppression. Trinculo’s speech upon seeing Caliban reproaches too harsh a view of Caliban and blurs the distinction between men and Monsters. But Trinculo also renders himself to be viewed slightly monstrous when he claims that people would gather around to and pay money to gape at Caliban. If not Trinculo himself is not viewed as monstrous, then it’ll be the cruel voyeurism of those who capture and gape at them.
The Allure of ruling a colony The nearly uninhabited island presents the sense of infinite possibility to almost anyone who lands there. All the characters envision the island as a space of freedom and unrealized potential. When Gonzalo makes his contradictory statement in ruling the island while seeming not to rule it, he becomes a kind of parody of Prospero. While there are many representatives of the colonial impulse in the play, the colonized have only one representative: Caliban. We might develop sympathy for him at first, when Prospero seeks him out merely to abuse him, and when we see him tormented by the spirits. However, this sympathy is made more difficult as Caliban’s urge to rule and urge to be ruled seem inextricably intertwined.
Nature vs. Nurture Two major views of nature are explored in The Tempest. the first is that when left alone, nature grows to perfection and is inherently good. the second is that nature is inherently bad and therefore must be controlled and educated in order to become good. The simple contrast between nature and nurture is questioned by Prospero when he says that Caliban is someone ‘on whose nature/Nurture can never stick’ . In this case he suggests that it is not a question of whether nature is inherently good or bad, but whether or not nurture can have an influence on it.
Usurpation and Treachery The play portrays rebellions, political treachery, mutinies and conspiracies. All kinds of challenges to authority are made at all levels of society-on the boat, on the island and back in the past (in Naples) .
Imprisonment and Powerlessness All the characters in the play suffer some kind of confinement, whether as a result of exile, unjust punishment, tests of character, the effects of magic, and their own conscience. Everyone yearns for freedom.
Forgiveness and reconciliation For most of the play it is not clear exactly what Prospero intends to do with his enemies. However, at the end he relents, deciding that forgiveness and mercy are better guides to human conduct than dominance and revenge.
Illusion and Magic The tempest is full of magic and its effects: the opening tempest is itself an enchantment; music is everywhere;strange shapes, fantastic creatures and wonderful illusions appear; everything undergoes an alteration.
Colonialism and exploration Tales that explorers brought back to England from the New world are strongly echoed in this play. the Europeans set about what they believed to be their divinely ordained task of taking ownership of this New world. Gonzalo’s vision of his ‘commonwealth’- a dream perfect. Utopian society might be like- is in stark contrast to the realities of colonialism.
Sleep and Dreams Prospero sends Miranda to sleep, Ariel causes Alonso and Gonzalo to sleep, and Caliban’s dreams are so wonderful that he longs to sleep again. The island himself possesses dream-like qualities.
Change and Transformation The turbulence of the storm with which the play begins changes into the apparent peace and harmony of the ending. Many of the characters experience a ‘Sea change’: Alonso’s despair turns to joy; Prospero’s wish for vengeance metamorphoses into forgiveness; and Caliban’s evil intentions become a desire for grace.