Time And The Tempest Essay, Research Paper
The Tempest , penned by playwright William Shakespeare, as one of his last works circa 1612 is a story about many things: love, revenge, greed, politics, magic, and mystery. Even the notion of time plays a major role, and it is this aspect we shall be discussing in the following pages. Time plays a fairly large role in many of the ideas put forward in this rather wistful tale of one man s (Prospero) betrayal at the hands of his brother and his initial attempts at revenge. Essentially The Tempest ends with the age-old moral that time heals all wounds as he finally finds it in his heart to forgive his brother and bring the tale to a peaceful resolution. It is not just here however, that we find time to be a useful plot device. One should also pay attention to the various goings on within the play such as Pospero s comments on the brevity of life – as well as the title of the play itself.
To begin with we shall look at the title The Tempest which serves to hold a double meaning. Whilst the word Tempest of course can be seen to refer to the great storm that is used by Prospero to imprison his captives on the isle, as well as the tempest of emotion invoked in the characters an the imbalance of power amongst them caused by the situation , there is another reason why The Tempest is such an apt name. Indeed, why did Shakespeare not name it The Storm or some other such synonym? I believe this stems from its sound. The word s first half is temp stemming from the Latin tempestas , mean time, and can also be seen in it s transition to English in tempo , which means time, in relation to speed or degree of movement in action. This serves as a further note to the viewer on the importance of time, both in the play s course as well as in it s underlying themes.
The theme of time in relation to its brevity also appears as a running theme throughout The Tempest . Although it is only truly noticeable when it comes to a head with Prospero s speech to Miranda and Ferdinand, in which he tells them not to worry about his attempted assassination: be cheerful, sir: our revels are now ended: these actors were all spirits, and are melted into thin air: And, like the baseless fabric of this vision Yea, which it inherit, shall dissolve, And, like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind: we are such stuff As dreams are made on, and our little life, Is rounded with a sleep. It is here that we see Prospero s lamentation on his age and ailing health, insisting the youths not worry about his welfare, as he is old and that life is too short for worries and regrets. It is possible to see here that perhaps Shakespeare has created Prospero as a reflection of himself, and that these are similar thoughts to his as he wrote the play; considering his age (early 50s) at the time of writing The Tempest and the fact that its release coincided roughly with the time of his retirement. This could in fact be the source of the play s inspiration as many of its concurrent themes stem quite closely to this Carpe Diem ideology. In fact it s whole jovial nature seems to stem from this idea of life being too short for worry, regret, animosity, and other such negative emotions. Music, which also seems to play a rather major role in The Tempest , seems to serve as a reminder of this also. Sitting on a bank Weeping again the king my father s wreck, This music crept by me upon the waters; Allaying both their fury and my passion. Here we see Ferdinand s spirits roused by the sound of Ariel s music, reminding him the futility of lamenting what is past and to look towards the beauty of the present.
In the resolution of The Tempest we can see Shakespeare s commentary on forgiveness through the passage of time. Whilst many critics view this as the play s primary weak point, believing its form merely to be a rather weak attempt at winding it up with a peaceful ending in order to comply with classic comic form (this depends on whether one was to actually class this as a comedy), I believe that given the rather deep content involved as well as it s encompassing of so many genres (ie romance, drama, fantasy as well as comedy), such accusations are ill founded. As Prospero s plan are finally coming into fruition, he finally realises after a conversation with Ariel that Yet with my nobler reason, gainst my fury Do I take part: the rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance: they being penitent, The sole drift of my purpose doth extend Not a frown further. Here he convinces himself that revenge is not necessary. He shall acknowledge his wrongdoer s penance and forgive their deeds in order to move on (albeit with some recompense), and not continue the short remainder of his life in spite. It is here also in the closing scene that we see Prospero/Shakespeare lamenting that he hopes to see the nuptial Of these our dear-beloved solemniz d; And thence retire me to my Milan, where Every third thought shall be of my grave.
Another peculiarity of this play is also the confused nature of time s own passage throughout. Each character seems to have their own distinctive feeling of the story s length. Ariel for example, spends the entire play counting the minutes til his eventual release which he knows will only come at the conclusion of these events. Prospero, on the other hand, passes the time quickly; we see how he has been preparing twelve years for this event, and he know he has much to do in the three or so short hours that ensue: the very minute bids the ope thine ear is another good indication of his realisation that this timing is short and crucial as his life s works reach their zenith. Of course there is also Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano who, whilst being together on the island, all seem to have completely different agendas and hence different notions of the passing of time: Caliban becomes excited by the notion of finding a new god and like Ariel rues every minute he has to wait before the hour of Prospero s repose when Stephano has promised to assassinate him, whilst Stephano and Trinculo appear more than happy to wander around in a drunken stupor with very little regard to where or when they should be. This of course discontents Caliban and prompts his reminder I will have none on t: we shall lose our time And all be turned to barnacles, or to apes With foreheads villanous low. On the other hand, however, the entire island is seen to be encapsulated in magic and mystery. Within the magic circle Prospero has created to trap his captives real time (as opposed to the perceived passage of time individual to each character) seems to take on a slow, surreal quality that weighs everybody down and makes the events appear to occur in a sleepy, dreamlike fashion. Such distortion helps further lend a sense of mysticism and mystery to The Tempest .
So as should by now be seen, time plays a major, not entirely unsubversive role in Shakespeare s final farewell to theatre. Despite it s somewhat lacking in depth of content there is still a world of beauty and intricacy here to be seen. Through the use of language and characters, Shakespeare has managed to master the use and the notion of time and its various forms of manipulation, to enrich this dreamy comedy/romance/drama in ways possibly no other man could.