Back to: The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Table of Contents
The play begins in such a way that the audience shares the same view of the whole storm as the characters who are in it but very soon one gets to know that it is but a creation of Prospero’s magic aimed at his revenge.
By the moment a reader understands that it is not a storm but its illusion, she is already in the magical world of Prospero. When Miranda wonders “if by your art, my dearest father”, it is clear that the opening is but a brilliant example of Prospero’s power.
When those characters of the opening scene believe that they are going to die, their initial response gives us a hint of their true personalities. When Sebastian and Antonio come down to mean cursing, Gonzalo shows the mark of his wisdom.
Hence the opening of the play shows that the play belongs to Prospero and here Shakespeare is more theatrical than poetic.
In a characteristic manner, The Tempest has various aspects that are imbued with multi-layered symbolism. The very beginning scene of the play set in a storm is symbolic. The storm, which is due to Prospero’s magic spell, brings down every character from their socially assigned role to basic.
When the king and others are shouting at the mariners to work harder and save the ship, one of them shouts back. The storm may symbolize the upheaval happening in the play on various levels.
Towards the end, when all are together and Prospero reveals Ferdinand to Alonso, they find him playing chess with Miranda. It may symbolize the long move which Prospero took to finally win the game.
Through soliloquy, one gets to know the inner processes of any character which they reveal only when they’re alone. Unlike Shakespearean tragedies, The Tempest doesn’t utilize soliloquy in an extensive manner.
Prospero delivers two important soliloquies which may be considered as the closest autobiographical voice of Shakespeare. In the 4th Act, famously, Prospero in his soliloquy says, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with sleep.”
The final soliloquy which is titled Epilogue is the most unique soliloquy in all. It has been noted by various scholars as Shakespeare’s retirement speech.
Here he speaks of abandoning all his magical power and directly addresses the audience and asks them to “set him free from their indulgence.”
Just like the spectacle of the storm in the very beginning, the masque is another spectacle of Prospero’s magical power. He shows this to his newly betrothed son-in-law and daughter Miranda to hint at his prowess.
The masque shows whatever the concern Prospero has through his artistic vision. Before it begins, Prospero has thoroughly cautioned Ferdinand regarding the importance of chastity before marriage.
The Masque is in a way Prospero’s desired teaching for the newly betrothed couple as per the Elizabethan worldview. First comes Iris, the virgin goddess of the rainbow followed by Ceres, the goddess of agriculture.
Juno, the patroness of women, in general, blesses both in the end while Ceres reiterates the bounty of nature to rain upon them.
Once Prospero’s whole design is realized successfully, in the end, he addresses the audience. The ending of this play very uniquely happens with an epilogue.
After the happy ending, the stage is set to clear but delivered almost in a retiring fashion, it hints at the fact that this play was the last play individually written by Shakespeare.
The play ends with Prospero as a normal human being just like anybody, no magical power. He becomes the actor behind the character of Prospero and prays the audience to set him free as per the theatrical tradition.