Back to: The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Ariel’s character, in the play The Tempest by Shakespeare, is a magical force, a kind of spirit. His power is controlled by Prospero who is master to Caliban too.
While Caliban is openly in revolt against Prospero, Ariel demands his freedom throughout the play and it gets delayed to the very end until Prospero, with no use anymore, abandons his magical power forever.
The island, before Prospero, was inhabited by Sycorax, a witch. Initially, Ariel was imprisoned by her but the fact that Prospero released him from her spell allows him to make Ariel obey him further for his own ends.
Since the very first scene, Ariel seems like an extension of Prospero’s senses. The storm which wrecks the ship and the whole division and movement of the travelers on the ship is designed by Prospero and carried out by Ariel.
Historically, during the restoration period, Ariel’s character used to be performed by a female but in the play, the stage direction reveals the gender by a pronoun where it says, “Enter Ariel, like a harpy; claps his wings upon the table.”
In the play, Ariel’s power is remarkable. His speed is as fast as thoughts because many times Prospero just thinks and asks Ariel to do something and he replies that it will be done before his heart beats again.
He can take many forms and act upon almost everything in nature. Keeping in mind, the idea of Prospero as a magician, Ariel’s character shows the Renaissance period’s concept about a magician and his assistant who is completely neutral and never questions the demand of his master.
The only possible suggestion made by Ariel to Prospero is when he appeals to his humanity regarding the condition of the king and other prisoners of his spell.
He says to Prospero, “Your charm so strongly works ’em that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender.” Prospero addresses the nature of Ariel’s body as something “which is but air.”
Ariel’s character sings the happiness of freedom. Even Caliban does so but Ariel is full of such music. Throughout the play, he keeps playing music and creating such a magical scene.
In the end, when he is set free from Prospero after all his services, he says that “Merrily, merrily, shall I live now under the blossom that hangs on the bough.” Even though serving Prospero wholeheartedly, his character shows the need for freedom constantly through the play.