The following paper analyzes the aspect of power in the context of the famous play “The Tempest.” It is a renowned play that was written by William Shakespeare in the era of 1610 to 1611. The story of this drama features the setting of an island that belongs to Prospero: a sorcerer and the legitimate heir to the throne of the island because he is the Duke of Milan. To get the restoration of the empire and to place her daughter Miranda in her rightful position, he uses the weapon of mirage and his cunning wits.
With his magical powers, he conjures a storm “tempest.” this illusionary storm strikes Antonio (brother of Prospero), and King Alonso of Naples perceives that they are stranded and become deserted on the island. This all hullaballoo leads to the unrevealing of Antonio’s culprit nature, and consequently, the King gets the emancipation. In the end, the witty maneuvering of Prospero brings Miranda to get happily married to Ferdinand, son of Alonso.
Shakespeare employs multiple themes, motifs, and symbols throughout the play to sustain the inference attribute of the plot. The charisma of colonialism, distinguishing the man from the monster, and the journey of seeking knowledge are all the core thematic aspects of “The Tempest.” However, the most prominent and primary factor of the story is “power”; this element is elucidated all through the play from beginning to end. The dispositions are persistently practicing their powers or pursuing the power. This theme envelops the entire plot very artistically and is perfectly woven into the tapestry of the plot of the drama. The depiction of authority emerges even before the commencement of the play. In the prolog, Antonio uses the power that was entrusted to him only for administrative purposes. However, in an alliance with Alonso, Antonio banishes the rightful king Prospero from Milan. Further, he provokes Sebastian to assassin the king in his sleep and to rule the throne of Naples. Similarly, Prospero seeks his lost power, and for this purpose, he does not hesitate to acquire the sorcery powers. He attains all the magical might of Sycorax to get back his dynasty. The core theme of the drama is based on the attainment of political power and the usage of that to control and manipulate others.
The opening scene of “The Tempest” demonstrates an eponymous storm, and throughout the rough conditions, the courtiers seek the orders of their rulers to determine what should be done in this catastrophic situation. The play addresses several questions regarding the origin, sources, and entitlement of power. It also highlights the aspects of authority transferring. Throughout the play, characters snatch the strength from each other, and in this way, the setting always encounters a political instability that leads to the further anarchy of gaining power by violence. Take the instance of the Antonio with the assistance of Alonso that plotted the plan to take the ruling status of Prospero that further smoothen the ways to provoke the Antonio and Sebastian to make the plan to kill the Alonso. Similarly, Prospero overthrows and enslaves the ruling power of Caliban and makes Caliban enraged enough to plan the revenge.
For the depiction of the power game, Shakespeare employs the concept of master and servant, and by using this relationship, he demonstrates different situations that can imbalance the societal and political grounds. The interconnection between servants and masters are significant factors that elucidate the attribute of power throughout the play. The disturbance that is stated among the masters and servants is the major part of the power-based theme of “The Tempest.” Act 1 shows that there is a Boatswain named Trinculo passing orders to the passengers to take the shelter in the times of blowing storm. But the passengers were all from the noble class and never received order, and therefore they were creating a mess by not cooperating even in such worst weather condition. Consequently, the ship sank just because of the unwillingness of master passengers to follow the logical orders of Boatswain. At this point, he says “Do you not hear him? You mar our labor: keep your Cabins, you help the storm.” (Shakespeare, 5)
This element of power that is implicated through the relationship between masters and slaves can be exemplified by the instance that before the arrival of Prospero and his daughter Miranda the Caliban was the only master of his island. However, after their arrival, Prospero takes control over the entire island and enslaves Caliban. At this point,, he says “Dull thing, I say so; he, that Caliban, and she that Sycorax, whom I now keep in service.” (Shakespeare, 18) After the declaration of mastership over Caliban, Prospero further says to Miranda Shake it off; come on, I’ll now call Caliban, my slave, who never yields us a thoughtful answer.” (Shakespeare, 19) On the other hand, Stephano is a servant, but Caliban somehow makes him the master. This bizarre situation refers to the most disturbed and confused relationship between slavery and mastership that continues throughout the play.
Shakespeare also highlights the abusive nature of power usage through his protagonists. The most prominent instance of power abuse is Prospero, who misuses his influence when he takes control of the island once ruled by Caliban. He mistreats Caliban and shows no mercy or compassion for him and considers him as a less and inferior creature. Prospero also depicts an immoral use of power when he promises Ariel to set him free, but even after completing his tasks, he keeps him in prison just for one more task. To remind Prospero of his promise Ariel says “Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains, let me remember thee what thou hast promis’d, which is not yet performed me.” (Shakespeare, 16) And Prospero says that “Ariel, thy charge. Exactly is performed, but there’s more work.” (Shakespeare, 16) This mercy-less behavior of Prospero means that power gets on his mind, and he becomes an inhumane thing that exploits others just for his sake.
Moreover, it is also demonstrated that Prospero is not kind even to his daughter as the power has taken control over him, and he wants a manipulative influence on everyone around him. To stay in power, he tries to evade the love Miranda feels for Ferdinand, and when she admits her feelings for Ferdinand, he reprimands her and asserts that she met only three men, and this cannot be true love. By separating them, he wants to employ both of them for his personal interest. When they confess their true love, Prospero gets angry and says No more. Speak not you for him; he’s a Traitor, Come! Thou art my Prisoner and shalt be in Bonds. Sea-water shalt thou drink, thy food Shall be the fresh-Brook-Muscles, withered Roots, And Husks, wherein the Acorn crawl; follow.” (Shakespeare, 69) Such instances affirm that the addiction to power makes Prospero blind, and he becomes selfish and ignores the happiness and prosperity of other in due course of retaining the power.
Prospero has two slaves, and through their relationship, Shakespeare attempts to show a misuse of power as he utilizes their powers to attain his desires, and in return, he humiliates them and keeps them deprived of their fundamental rights. Prospero has a bright mind, but he uses Caliban’s strength to execute his revenge project. Prospero uses his magical power to control the physical power of the monstrous Caliban, and therefore he becomes capable of compelling the Caliban to do all manual toil for him. On the other hand, Ariel is delicate but has magical powers, and Prospero uses his brain to captivate and makes Ariel assist him with enchantment. Before Prospero, Ariel was a servant pixie of the Sycorax witch. With Ariel’s magical power, he tames the Caliban, and he soothes Ariel with false promises of freedom. In this case, Prospero utilizes both his brains and the brawns of Caliban and Ariel to do his physical and magical tasks. Through this notion, Shakespeare depicts that although Prospero has lost his rightful throne on the island yet with his smart brains, he managed to rule over the other creatures.
Through many scenarios, it is also demonstrated that the kind and positive people are often tamed by the exhibition of great powers. Take the instance of Miranda. She is a gentle and compassionate girl, but as she is conscious of the mysterious might of her father, that is why she tends to obey him. When Prospero conjures up a tempest, she pities the sufferers and says “O, I have suffered from those that I saw suffer!” (Shakespeare, 5-6) Her concealed sympathies imply that her father is a powerful and cruel man, and there is no use in pleading with him to halt the suffering of the people by calming the stormy waters.
Evidently, the term “power” has a broad scope and can be utilized to describe various attributes by relations and their effect on each other. Likewise, “The Tempest” tells the maze of characters that are affected by the power status of one another and are riding on the see-saw of authority and slavery. Someone’s rise causes the downfall of others and vice versa. Throughout the play, Shakespeare focuses on the titles and tries to emphasize the truth that titles play a crucial role in the determination of power capacities. Even the title of the play itself alludes to a strength that alters the entire pattern of the ruling game. According to “The Tempest,” Stefano is the person who launches the system of titles on the island as the drama states that “[Prospero’s] daughter and I will be king and queen…and Trinculo and [Caliban] shall be viceroys.” (Shakespeare, 103) After this allocation, Stefano starts to pretend that he is the current Emperor who rules over Trinculo and the monster Caliban just because of his self-given titles. His assertion of self-assumed power can be comprehended by this dialogue “The poor monster’s my subject, and he shall not suffer indignity, says Stefano, suggesting that he has taken on a role.” (Shakespeare, 35)
“The Tempest” also suggests that when a person becomes obsessed with the ultimate power, every act of his will be conducted to retain the power and to attain further control over everyone. Prospero generates a proper union to take back the lost empire, and for this purpose, he syncs with the physical power of Caliban and the magical powers of Ariel. He also uses the love relation of Miranda and Ferdinand to strengthen his roots as a ruler. A critic Kathryn Barbour says that the unification of Miranda and Ferdinand was “absolutely necessary for Prospero’s project.” (Barbour, 290) Miranda falls truly in love with Ferdinand and looks forward to having a cordial and official relationship, but Prospero sees this bonding as an opportunity to secure his position. Ferdinand is the rightful heir of the king of Naples, Alfonzo, and by knotting the wedlock of his daughter, Prospero wants to establish a firm stance as the ruler of the empire. To get a strong hold on Ferdinand, Prospero attempts to have a concrete grasp on Ferdinand and to ensure his dominance, he says to him that “Remove some thousands of these logs and pile them up upon a sore injunction.” (Shakespeare, 11) by conducting such wicked tricks, he establishes a master-servant relation with Ferdinand to secure his prospect position without even entitling him in a particular manner.
It is further described that Prospero uses different modes to stay in power. First, he utilizes the potential and strength of Caliban, Ariel, and Sycorax to gain control over the island. Moreover, he uses the affectionate relation of his daughter Miranda to impose dominance over the prince of Naples, Ferdinand, to make him the slave and to snatch his title. He asserts his power over the Prince as he says, “One word more I charge thee that thou attend me.” (Shakespeare, 457) Ferdinand denies the undue influence of Prospero and attempts to fight back, but at that point, Prospero again uses his magical powers and blocks the prospect of Ferdinand squabbling with him. As a consequence of this enchantment, Ferdinand becomes a servant of Prospero. Through this utilization of magical powers, he secures the future of Miranda and also provides her with a male partner who can offer lifetime security.
The cycle of power game stops when ultimately, Prospero denies seeking avenge to Antonio, Alonzo, and Sebastian, and in this manner, the political stress comes to a halt. At this point, Prospero uses the power of mercy that unifies Alonzo and Prospero in a swift manner. After their unification, they strengthen the knot of their newly built relationship by happily arranging the marriage of their son and daughter. The restoration and the reconciliation of political and societal tyranny due to the compromising and merciful decision of Prospero assert that the positive use of power implies far better results than the negative and adverse usage of power. When Prospero employs his power through violence and unkindness, he creates an imbalanced political situation that, in turn, resists establishing order. Contrarily, when he selects the way of compassion and mercy the problems get solved in a smoother way.
The above-analyzed aspect of “The Tempest” assures that through the plot of this famous play, William Shakespeare highlights the nature of power by analyzing it with different aspects. He shows the improper usage of power by depicting the violent and unkind relationship between the master and slaves. He also states the obsession for power that makes a person addicted, and then he will agree to opt for any illegal and unjust way to stay in authority. On the other hand, Shakespeare restores all the chaos at the end by demonstrating the greatest power of compassion and compromise, and through it, he elucidates that these are the most efficient instruments to tackle the political matters and can imply better and enhanced outcomes as compared to those violent and enslaved approaches. He further tries to state that even magic is an inferior power when compared to the power of love and positivity.
Kendall, Gillian Murray. Shakespearean power and punishment: a volume of essays. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson U Press, 1998. Print. doi 10.1353/shq.2001.0012
Shakespeare, William. The tempest. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 2001. Print.x: Penguin 2001.Print. http://www.oxfordscholarlyeditions.com/view/10.1093/actrade/9780198129172.book.1/actrade-9780198129172-book-1