Themes of The Tempest

God and Humanity James Russell Lowell saw the play as “an example of how a great poet should write allegory”. Does Prospero represent God? It is he who control the action on the stage – he wields tremendous power as shown in the Epilogue at the closing of the play: “I have bedimmed/The moontide sun, called forth mutinous winds”. Prospero is also seen in the play performing several roles that Christianity traditionally assign to God: that of the Omnipotent Judge and the Savior of Man. In addition to Prospero being symbolic of God, Caliban is symbolic of Satan. He is referred to as Devil by Prospero, and is represented as the “lost sheep” in Prospero’s flock–much the same as Lucifer was once an Angel of God who left the fold. Caliban’s ethics and morals also help reinforce his representation of Satan. Caliban has a very different sense of morals when compared to the average human. Through his interaction with Propsero and Miranda at the beginning of the play, we learn that Caliban attempted to rape Miranda. However, in their dialogue, the responses given by Caliban show that he has no remorse about the action itself–only that he got caught.
Love There are many kinds of love throughout the play: parent to child, woman to man, brother to brother, courtier to king. Miranda and Ferdinand are developed as the pure characters of the play; both are oblivious to sin and innocent of crimes. They appropriately fall in love with one another and become symbols of the finest kind of love and devotion — pure and unblemished. Because of their total surrender to one another and to love, they become the symbol of reconciliation and hope for the future. Prospero, Gonzalo, and Alonso are also influenced by love. Prospero is devoted to his daughter Miranda and uses his power to make certain that she finds the right husband to bring her love and happiness. Gonzalo shows his love for his fellow man when he secretly puts provisions in Prospero’s boat and when he tries to calm his fellow passengers during the tempest. Even Alonso shows his love and concern for his daughter Claribel, who must endure a politically arranged marriage, and for his son, who he fears has been lost at sea. The finest characters in the play are those that are guided by love.
Magic At the time of the writing magic was taken very seriously, due to the harsh living conditions and lack of education. It is worth noting that women were being burnt during the reign of James I under the pretence of them being witches. It is worth considering whether magic is ever used benignly during the play e.g. Sycorax’s imprisonment of Ariel, and Prospero’s enslavement of Caliban and his insistence on unquestioning service from Ariel. The eponymous tempest is the result of Prospero’s control of the elements. It is true that no one was actually hurt by the experience, but everyone involved in it suffered at some point of the play. In The Tempest the entire island has strong associations with the supernatural. Caliban’s mother, Sycorax, a renowned witch, was banished there; Ariel and the other spirits belong on the island; Prospero’s magical powers seem to have developed only after he reached it, and they are given up before he leaves. It is as if the island is enchanted. As Caliban says:”… the isle is full of noises,/Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.”
Nature and Nurture Could we not say that Prospero’s attempt to nurture Caliban had failed because the nurture was meant to control him and not to free him? Is it true that Caliban is the only character that truly understands and loves nature, as it is represented in the play? Perhaps we might ask if the play is about heredity and environment. It certainly touches on these subjects, but brothers brought up in the same environment have markedly different characters; Miranda appears to have relatively little in common with her father or with Caliban, the only other person brought up on the island. Many believe that our character is determined by our genes (nature), while others claim that nurture explains all our actions and predispositions. To behaviourists, who hold the latter view, when a child is born it is like a tabula rasa, or blank surface, on which people, events and experiences are imprinted. Perhaps the play suggests that nature and nurture contribute to an individual’s character and behaviour.
New World and Old World Is the ‘new’ world of the island preferable to the ‘old’ world of Naples? If this is so, why does Miranda refer to the latter as ‘O brave new world’. Shakespeare’s play was written at a time when European colonial expansionism had brought to Europe stories of strange new worlds and civilisations. It is important to remember the time when it was written and the beliefs and attitudes that were held then. James I, for example, believed in the divine right of kings. According to this view, kings were ‘appointed’ by God in that God had ordained the rank into which an individual was born. If a king was bad, then that was God’s punishment on a group of people. The Stuarts believed that no one had the right to usurp an ordained king.
Power Power is certainly thematic in the play, whether it is the power of the elements or Prospero’s control of them.1) In the first extract, Ariel’s songs calm the storm and make Ferdinand believe that his father is dead. This puts Ferdinand in a weak position which makes it easier for Prospero to manipulate him. Ariel’s magic powers are responsible for much of what happens in the play. 2) Ariel only performs his magic so that he can win his freedom. Prospero has power over Ariel because Ariel owes him a debt of gratitude. 3) As a prince, Ferdinand’s royal power becomes redundant on Prospero’s magic island. 4) Miranda seems powerless under her father’s control on the island. She rebels against him, but even her rebellion was part of Prospero’s plan. 5) Prospero is usurped by his brother for not taking his duties as duke seriously, but when he arrives on the island his skills with magic enable him to wield complete power over the island.
Reconciliation The Tempest is a play about reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith in future generations to seal such reconciliation. Prospero forgives all those who have wronged him and his daughter, and returns to resume his Dukedom in Milan – he even lets Antonio and Sebastian live despite them plotting against the King Alonso, an act which would result in their deaths.