How does Prospero use magic in The Tempest and how does he use it to try and create an ideal society?
Through the use of his magic, Prospero seeks to surpass worldly values and create a utopia, or ideal society. This becomes evident in how Shakespeare portrays the innocence of Ferdinand and Miranda. He insists that Ferdinand not Break her virgin knot before All sanctimonious ceremonies may. (Act 4, Scene 1) Prospero s seeking to create an ideal society also becomes evident in his attempts at making his usurping brother and his court to repent. Thus, he is trying to make right of what has gone wrong in the world. He does this by working with his faithful spirit Ariel and using his magical knowledge to create a world in which he can create his own future and reconcile with his past. When his opportunity arrives to make his enemies repent. Prospero seizes the opportunity and sets out to reverse the events that occurred twelve year previously.
Hell is empty and all the devils are here, (Act 1, Scene 1) Ferdinand yelled as he leapt from the burning ship during the tempest. The great tempest that Prospero bade Ariel to create was made by magic. The ship burned but it did not split, break, or sink. The ship was brought safely into the harbor and her crew was magically charmed to sleep. The occurrence of a mighty storm is a pivotal plot-mover, as well as a symbol for transformation. In The Tempest, the storm provides for the arrival of the King of Naples, the usurping Duke of Milan, Gonzalo, and the rest of their party, including Stephano and Trinculo. While the latter two do not experience any profound transformation, the rest do, and it is through the facility of the tempest that this transformation occurs. The survivors of the storm swam to shore and were separated into groups about the island. This serves two purposes. It allows Prospero to operate on the protagonists separately. It also ensures the emotional shock of (supposedly) losing loved ones will make Ferdinand and Alonzo more open to the fresh experiences they will encounter on the island. (Hirst) The Tempest provides the means for Prospero to right what has gone wrong in the past. By bringing his usurping brother and his court to the island Prospero can teach them repentance and regain his dukeship.
Prospero uses Ariel and Caliban in very different ways. The savage is used as a pointer to the evil black magic that is the opposite of the benevolent white magic Prospero uses. (Wagner) Shakespeare does not allow us to feel anything but fear for Caliban. Since magic was a very real concept in the Elizabethan period, the people who saw The Tempest believed that Caliban s birth from the black witch Syxcorax could actually happen. Shakespeare also described Caliban s father as a being a demon which makes his existence even more repugnant. Caliban s demonic nature in turn allows Prospero to be a man seeking wisdom for the betterment of the world around him. Prospero uses Ariel in a variety of functions. Prospero s cruelest manifestation of magic is present in the storm, while the highest is in the music of Ariel. (James) The music of Ariel always leads to a harmony of a personal or political nature. (Hirst)
The magician uses magic to bring Ferdinand and Miranda together. Prospero prepared them both for their meeting: Miranda, through his teachings, and Ferdinand, through the loss of his father, which made him more open to the thought of love. Though Prospero has the ability to make them meet, making them fall in love is out of Propsero s magical reach. He does not have the power to make two people fall in love. But, Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love anyway. Prospero s plan does not end there. Prospero tests the love of Ferdinand and Miranda. He does this in three parts: the meeting, the testing, and the reward. His goal is to keep Miranda innocent until her wedding night. He warns, hate will be born in the bed (Act 4, Scene 1) of the one who breaks the rule of chastity. The marriage of Ferdinand and Miranda is a very important part of Prospero s larger project. To keep Ferdinand and Miranda innocent until their wedding night is part of creating an ideal society.
The magician s next step to an ideal society is trying to make his enemies repent. He does this by using his magic to bring the three sinners together and make them face their guilt. The sinners repent and Prospero forgives them. It seems that Prospero practiced magic on the survivors of the shipwreck only to forgive them in the end. Prospero intended for forgiveness to be part of his utopian society.
Shakespeare is honest enough to show us that the operation of magic is specifically circumscribed, not only by the limitations of Prospero s sphere of influence, but also by the intransigent of his raw material. (Mincoff) Prospero uses magic to try and create an ideal society. At the end of the play it seems that he successful. He achieved all his goals. He incorporated all of the aspects of a utopian society into his plan. Chastity, forgiveness, and repentance were all present in Prospero s scheme to regain his position as the Duke of Milan. Throughout the story Shakespeare uses Prospero s magic as tool to create a perfect world. In the end of the play when Prospero has achieved his goal he gives up the craft of magic to go live in the perfect world that he created.
D.G. James (1967). Dream of Prospero. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
David L. Hirst (1984). The Tempest, text and performance. London: Macmillan Publishers.
Emma Brogway Wagener (1933). The Tempest, an Allegorical interpretation Yellow Springs, Ohio: McGraw-Antioch Press.