In the play The Tempest, Shakespeare contemplates the idea of power in various ways. The play explores the desire for control and power which is universal. It is a unique play that has yielded different perspectives of different ages.
In modern times, much has been interpreted from the play in terms of colonial and post-colonial reading. The play reflects the power of a master over its slave and as well as the power of men over women in a patriarchal society apart from other topical notions of power such as the king and his subjects.
The power which is most deciding in the play is the magical power of Prospero. Prospero controls the whole island and through his power, he can also intervene in the rhythm of Nature.
The brutal side of his power is exposed through his dealing with Caliban. His brutality towards him is justified by the fact that Caliban tried raping his daughter Miranda.
Nevertheless, his power must have blinded him from realizing certain limitations of Caliban and accepting him as a living individual. In his power, he denies Caliban any humanity rather reserves it under his fold and addresses him as an “Other.”
Prospero’s attempt to civilize him is actually a patronizing device of power exercise. He is almost disappointed with his attempt to humanize Caliban but it feels more like a disappointment of curiosity.
At the beginning of the play, it is not clear whether Prospero is good or bad but with the progress in the plot, one notices Prospero’s use of power for just reasons reveals his goodness by the end.
Caliban is a foil to Prospero’s power. Prospero’s power has no effect upon Caliban while at the same time, his power can control even the sleep of other characters.
The power which men exercise over women in such a society as shown in the play is clearly contemplated in the play. Miranda becomes a mere object of exchange for Prospero to achieve his political gain.
Even when Ferdinand describes his love in a mode of serving Miranda, it remains a tool of patriarchal power. Ferdinand says that “The very instant that I saw you did My heart fly to your service.”
Miranda’s femininity has been subdued under her father and later by Ferdinand. But towards the end of the play, Prospero decides to abandon his “rough magic.”
He understands the value of mortal limitations and retires from the limitless adventure of power and that’s what perhaps let him go back to the position of his past. Power in its various forms remains one of the prime thematic concerns of the play.