The Tempest By William Shakespeare Essay, Research Paper
Explore the theme of Freedom versus Control in the Tempest.
The Tempest is a play that explores many themes, one of which is the theme of freedom versus control. We can explore this theme by examining the characters in the play. Throughout the play there are countless examples of power and authority through control, and the desire for freedom echoing strongly along with this is emphasised in many of the characters. All the characters in the play suffer some sort of incarceration before they are free.
For a start, the characters in The Tempest are all on an island of which they have no control over. Prospero and Miranda are exiled there after Antonio usurps his position of Duke of Milan; thus they both suffer a lack of control in their lives. Prospero, in fact, although yearning for control himself, reigns superior over many of the characters. One of these characters is his servant, Ariel, who he freed from Sycorax after she was imprisoned in a tree for twelve years. Ariel has to suffer harsh punishment when she so much as complains of her unfair treatment to Prospero (Act 1, Scene 2):
If thou more murmur’st, I will rent an oak
And peg thee in his knotty entrails till
Thou hast howled away twelve winters.
Prospero here is informing Ariel that if she dares to question is authority again, he will imprison her in an oak tree for twelve years. Ariel, longing for her freedom, agrees to run errands for Prospero in order for him to gain control and be free, through his plans of uniting Miranda and Ferdinand. Throughout the play, references are made by Prospero that Ariel shall soon be free as long as she carries out his instructions. (Act 4 Scene 1):
Shortly shall all my labours end, and thou
Shalt have the air at freedom. For a little Follow, and do me service.
Prospero has also enslaved Caliban even though he states that the island is rightfully his by his mother, Sycorax. In Act 1 Caliban tells Prospero how he showed him all the good things on the island, and in return he imprisoned him. However Prospero accuses him of trying to rape Miranda, so therefore he should be a slave. In the theme freedom versus control, Caliban is an interesting character to examine, because he sees freedom in a different way. In Act 2 Scene 2 he insists that he become Stephano’s servant because that will release him from Prospero’s harsh commands:
No more dams I’ll make for fish,
Nor fetch in firing,
Nor scape trenchering, nor wash dish,
Has a new master, get a new man.
Freedom, high-day, high-day freedom.
Although Caliban is drunk at the time of stating these words, it is clear that his version of freedom is switching masters.
Another character that Prospero has control over is Ferdinand. To test the love between Miranda and Ferdinand, Prospero subjects Ferdinand to harsh treatment. But Ferdinand does not care about his lack of control and freedom, saying that as long as he can see Miranda once a day from prison, he is happy: All corners else o’th’earth let liberty make use of. Because he has enough space and enough freedom; nothing matters to him except seeing Miranda. That is his form of freedom. At Prospero’s orders, Ferdinand has to carry logs all day, but he is so blinded by love that it doesn’t bother him. Prospero, being Miranda’s father, also has control of her. In Act 4, Scene 1, Prospero again emphasises his authority over the two lovers by warning Ferdinand that if he is to break her virgin-knot before marriage, Miranda will no longer be his.
In The Tempest, especially in Act 1, some characters are challenging the control that others have over them, and demand for their freedom. The Boatswain orders the king and courtiers to leave the deck and confines all the sailors underneath there. Prospero is angry at being overthrown by Antonio and conspires to change it, through his control over Ariel, who questions his right of having her as a slave. Caliban, too, questions his imprisonment, and Prospero accuses Ferdinand of stealing the island.
Gonzalo has his own version of what freedom should be, and he states it in Act 2, Scene 1, that he believes that men and women would live together in harmony and be freed from government and control. He says:
I would with such perfection govern, sir T’Excel the Golden Age.
He dreams of a Utopian republic in which everyone would have freedom. It is an interesting aspect of the play to have Gonzalo’s view on freedom in exploring the theme of freedom versus control. He thinks that there should be no control in our society, but Antonio and Sebastian mock him.
Antonio is a character in The Tempest who has acquired control by usurping Prospero’s throne. He proposes a murderous plot to Sebastian: he will kill Alonso so that Sebastian can become king, and Sebastian must also kill Gonzalo. By using powers of persuasion, Antonio is a character that has gained control. Antonio has no conscience and as long as he has his own freedom, he cares not about anyone else. However, although he is probably unaware, Antonio slowly loses his freedom and has a lack of control as Antonio, Sebastian and Antonio are all driven into madness.
Other characters in The Tempest, too, are driven into close insanity. Caliban also proposes a murderous plot to kill Prospero. Stephano agrees and says that he will make Trincolo and Caliban his deputies. But Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban are haunted by Prospero’s spirits. Caliban complains in Act 2 Scene 2 how he is tormented by Prospero’s spirits:
His spirits hear me .sometime am I
All wound with adders, who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.
Once again, Prospero has managed to gain control and create a lack of freedom in the lives of others.
Throughout The Tempest, Prospero has aspired to achieve many things: to unite Naples and Milan through the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand and so he will regain his dukedom; to have revenge on Alonso, Sebastian and Antonio; to overcome the wicked natures of others; to escape the island; to free Ariel; and generally unite everyone. Prospero is essentially a good man: through control he has been able to be successful in most of these things. However, Ariel persuades him (Act 5 Scene 1) to have pity on the king and courtiers, so through Ariel, Prospero abandons his plans for revenge and instead decides he will be merciful and give up all his magic powers. In the end of the play, Alonso asks for forgiveness and resigns all claim to Milan. It is only Antonio and Sebastian who have not apologised and acknowledged their wickedness.
The theme freedom versus control in The Tempest is very important. There is a constant interaction between both freedom and control. All the characters have some sort of freedom, and yet they all have some sort of control over them, too. Through the exploration of the characters in the play, it can be determined that Prospero is the main instigator of both freedom and control. Prospero himself, however, is not free until the end of the play. Prospero has been restricted from total freedom from the beginning of The Tempest. Whether or not Prospero’s final words be echoing the concluding words of one of the world’s greatest playwrights, William Shakespeare, Prospero asks the audience for forgiveness. As it is with many of the characters in The Tempest, it is only with the acceptance of the control over them that they can then truly be free.