Prospero The Leader Essay, Research Paper
Prospero the Leader
Shakespeare, by concealing part of the truth at first, shows us the development of Prospero’s character while on the island, from excessively trustful, too tyrannical, to a man who is willing to forgive. By the end of the play, Prospero indeed combines power over himself with power over the outer world (Elye 7). Although this does put him in an ideal position to lead, Prospero is brought to a point where he develops control over himself, rather than being presented as such a character immediately. Prospero’s magical powers allow him singlehandedly to take control of a situation of slowly developing chaos, caused by his eviction from Milan. He has powers over his surroundings, far greater than those of an ordinary mortal, is incontestable, as is the fact that he uses them for good throughout the play. However, it remains to be presented whether Shakespeare actually favors Prospero as an ideal leader.
Although we hear Prospero tell the story of his eviction from Milan, the manner in which he tells his history inspires distrust and self-pity. While Duke of Milan, he trusted his brother Antonio too much, and consequently lost his dukedom, and nearly his life. On the island, he befriended Caliban, brought him into his house and treated him as a member of the family. Repeating the pattern of trust, which was again betrayed, when Caliban attempted to rape Miranda. Although Prospero learns from this second betrayal, he goes to the other extreme (Thomson 27). As stated by critic Karl Elye: “Prospero’s apparent tyrannical stance is revealed in his exile and verbal abuse of Caliban, and also his tirade and threat to imprison Ariel again “till / Thou hast howl’d away twelve winters” (Elye 24).
Aside from the sin of tyranny, Prospero also seems unforgiving toward Caliban and Antonio. When we see Caliban willingly serving Stephano and Trinculo, we begin to realize that Caliban is not evil, and could in fact be a most affectionate servant. When Caliban speaks of Prospero as a “tyrant,” Shakespeare implies that the fault of alienating Caliban lies with Prospero’s failure to understand Caliban’s limitations. Furthermore, Prospero’s treatment of the court party seems to show that he is interested only in frightening them, and at this point we do not realize that he wants to educate them. We can only assume that Prospero wants to take his revenge on Alonso. As yet, we have heard no other speech from Prospero about his intentions for the court party except the long history he told to Miranda, when he called Alonso “an enemy / To me inveterate” and spoke bitterly at great length about Antonio (Elye 27).
Prospero is also consistently self-indulgent and vain. At the beginning of the play, he calls himself “poor man” in his story to Miranda, and answers her question in extremely long-winded fashion, suiting his own wishes rather than hers. Although he says that his only care has been to serve Miranda, the first thing we see after that is Miranda serving Prospero by helping him takes off his cloak, inferring hypocrisy. When Stephano’s party is getting ready to kill Prospero and the court party is apparently going to commit mass suicide, aided by Antonio. Prospero indulges his vain desire to show off his art to his children, and makes most of it before he gives it up. Even at the end, we are a little uneasy at Prospero’s desire to tell everyone his life story, a wish that seems selfish.
However, this has been but one side of the coin. Although Prospero appears tyrannical at the beginning of the play, our impressions of him change drastically by the end. His last lines to Ariel are that once he has blown them safely home,”he is free.”
At a point when Ariel again reminds him of his promise, he reacts calmly, unlike his earlier outburst. We also discover that while Prospero has punished Caliban ever since his offence, he has also constantly searched for an opportunity to educate him further. It began to seem likely that Prospero only waited until the arrival of the court party because he could not have provided, by himself, the opportunity for Caliban to be educated. This seems to invalidate, to some extent, Caliban’s accusation that Prospero is a “tyrant.” Prospero may be an absolute monarch, but he does care for and educate his subjects. Also, in the end, Prospero accepts Caliban “this thing of darkness I acknowledge mine” and forgives Antonio (Tolman 12).
For Prospero’s self-indulgence and vanity there seems little excuse. It is the only factor that may interfere with his rule in Milan. However, this is a minor fault when held in check by his other virtues. He genuinely cares for his subjects, witness the fact that he does not give up on the task of educating Caliban, and carries it out while he undertakes the delicate task of educating the court party. The cruelty he shows to Ferdinand and his failure to heed Miranda’s plea for mercy is done for a good reason. He is willingly giving her away to seek her new life. His use of magic, while done at times to indulge himself, is always for some greater purpose that involves others (Thomson 7). Even the masque’s main objective is to warn Ferdinand and Miranda, not to amuse themselves.
At the end of the play, Prospero gives up his magic. Shakespeare clearly wants us to see this as a necessary action. Magic has set Prospero above the human hierarchy, has made him into a demigod. This is no more a natural or appropriate position for Prospero than a place as a member of Prospero’s family was for Caliban. Although this magic has given Prospero great power to lead the others on the island, it has been in the nature of a god that he has led. In order for Prospero to become an ideal human leader, he must give up “this rough magic,” and consent to allow his power to flow only from the loyalty of his people (Tolman 17).
Shakespeare does not present us with the perfect ruler immediately. Instead he develops Prospero from a basically good, but flawed man, to one who although retaining some vanity and therefore is not perfect, will act in a manner befitting an ideal leader.
P.S. If you go to ETSU or Northeast state
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