The Tempest Essay, Research Paper
From Storms to The Tempest
William Shakespeare is undoubtedly the most celebrated playwright in history, but he is also the most severely criticized. Perhaps the play that has received the most criticism is his final, The Tempest. The Tempest has been disparaged for its lack of plot and tension, unparalleled amount of magic, myth and folklore contained within, and the lack of character strength. Many claim that Shakespeare?s last attempt at the theater was futile, resulting in a mind-numbing play about nothing. Perhaps it appears this way at first glimpse, much as the storm in the play appears to be Mother Nature acting up; but just as the tempest is more than a windstorm, The Tempest is more than meets the eye. It is instead an allegorical tale of life in the theater, a conclusive farewell as Shakespeare bids adieu to his career as a playwright.
The Tempest is brimming with allusion to the theater and the art of acting. The reader must simply be aware of the implication behind the words in order to catch these allusions. Perchance the most conspicuous reference to theater can be found in Prospero?s epilogue when he says ?But release me from my bands; with the help of your good hands.? Prospero?s remarks can be traced back to traditional renaissance theater, where the finale of the play was denoted by an epilogue of the main character asking for applause (??With the help of your good hands.?). Rather than closing his concluding play with Prospero?s journey back to Naples to resume his dukedom, Shakespeare instead draws it to a close with his central character, the wizard Prospero, thanking the audience and inviting applause. One might find this a peculiar way to close a play that is hypothetically about nothing.
Another curiosity is the connection between the length of the story and the duration of the play. While Shakespeare is renowned for his complex storylines that bridge over years of history, The Tempest covers a mere three hours, the duration of the actual performance of the play. The fascinating fact surrounding the play is that very little history of the characters is mentioned. The reader is informed that Prospero was once Duke, but abandoned his duties and was consequently banished to his island trap. Very little information before the plays commencement is given. Perhaps this is all part of the motive behind the writing of Shakespeare. Throughout the play there are constant references to time: the time in which Prospero has to seek his revenge, the time limit that Ferdinand has to court Miranda and prove worth to Prospero, the time that Caliban has to seek a new master and freedom. Shakespeare wants to demonstrate that all the magic seen by an audience takes place in a short span of time; of course, there are years of work put into the play before opening night, but the audience will never know of that effort, they will merely enjoy the three hours that they experience.
When considering The Tempest to be an allegorical look at theatre life, one must look outside the words and discover the true meaning behind characters, thoughts and places. Conceivably the first concept that comes to mind when considering theatre is the stage; after all, that is where all of the action transpires. What in the play functions as the stage? Prospero?s magic island is the ideal illustration of a Shakespearian stage, a place where stories are told, conflicts are brought to an end, and magical things happen. The island, which Prospero inhabits throughout the play, is one of magic, precisely as a stage is a place of magic. In a conventional theatre, the playwright controls his stage, it becomes what he tells it to become. Largely this is the occurrence with Prospero and his island. Prospero has complete control over the island paradise (which remarkably is never shown to be a joyful place) and all whom inhabit it. The island grows to be his center stage.
If a playwright manipulates a stage, and Prospero manipulates his island (allegorically speaking, his stage), it can be concluded that Prospero is representative of the playwright. Perhaps even representative of Shakespeare himself? It can be said that a true playwright has the power to harness the magic of theatre and to present that magic to the common person. By reading his books, Prospero has gained the knowledge needed to harness the magic of the island. After years of study and practice he has learned to harness the magical forces which he employs on his island, just as a playwright learns to harness the powers of the stage after years of practice and studies. In theory Prospero has harnessed the magic, thus he has learned to become a playwright. Throughout the play, Prospero uses his magic to control those living on his island home, including those whom he brings to the island for the specific purpose of gaining control of them in an attempt to right old wrongs. Just as Prospero brings those he wishes to manipulate to his island with the tempest, a playwright such as Shakespeare brings actors into his theatre to train them to play his roles. The true playwright also manipulates the inhabitants of his stage. The likeness between Prospero and Shakespeare does not end there. At the end of Act 5 Prospero retires his magic by breaking his magical staff, removing his cloak, and ??drown[ing] my book.? Upon ridding himself of his magical forces, he releases Ariel, the magical spirit whom he has enslaved throughout the play. The Tempest is known to be the last work of Shakespeare, his final farewell to the theatre. Through his representation of Prospero as himself, Shakespeare is thereby retiring the magic of the playwright, and retiring into the wings for the final time. As stated by Prospero in his epilogue, ?Let your indulgence set me free.? Shakespeare yearned for nothing more than to please his audience. He will be free to retire when they have applauded his efforts one last time, once he has indulged their pleasures for the final performance.
The magic of the island stage originates from a source that is present as an airy spirit, Ariel. The name Ariel has a Hebrew meaning of ?lion of God?, the messenger. Ariel becomes the allegorical representation of the magic of the theatre, the magic that can exist nowhere other than the stage. Just as a playwright holds jurisdiction over the magic within the play, Prospero serves as master to Ariel, and she in return does his behest. Ariel acts as messenger throughout the play, serving Prospero devotedly in return for her freedom from the tree in which Sycorax enslaved her. Though Prospero uses Ariel throughout the play, he liberates her before his return to Naples. Prospero merely says, ?I shall miss thee, but yet thou shalt have freedom?? and requests that Ariel guide him back to Naples securely. The release of Ariel validates that, though magic is only probable within the theater, it will stay within you as it accompanies you home contained within your memories.
The evil witch Sycorax, though not a character within the play, commands an important role. She is the one whom enslaves Ariel (the magic force of the island), whom she finds useless, within a ?cloven pine?. Though the witch never materializes in the play, she becomes the allegorical representation of a bad playwright, the opposite of Shakespeare. It is Sycorax that cannot learn to utilize the magic of her stage, and therefore fails miserably in alluring her audience.
The Tempest begins with an actual tempest, a storm created by Prospero, to draw his adversaries near. It is this storm that starts the chain of action in the play, which eventually leads up to the resolution of justice. The fact that this tempest is not a mere storm created by Mother Nature suggests a bit about it. The tempest comes to symbolize the twists and turns within a play, and the illusions that are often discovered by the viewer. This storm goes to attest that all in theatre is not what it seems, and that one event can drastically change the suspected outcome.
The viewer of The Tempest is introduced early on to Ferdinand, son to the King of Naples. As soon as Ferdinand lands on the isle, he is taken aback by Miranda (Prospero?s daughter), and quickly falls in love. In an undertaking to prove his love for Miranda is true, Ferdinand takes the job of island slaves and begins to move logs. He claims, ?but the mistress which I serve quickens what?s dead and makes my labors pleasures.? Hauling logs becomes Ferdinand?s manner of ?courting? Miranda, thus causing her to fall into a zealous love with him. Ferdinand?s arduous undertakings resemble closely the acts of the cast and crew of a Shakespearian play, doing all that is in their power to delight the audience. They find no joy in anything other than serving their audience.
If Ferdinand serves as the cast and crew with the responsibility of pleasing the audience, then one could effortlessly say that Miranda functions as the audience. Miranda is depicted as the innocent and chaste daughter of the magician Prospero. Her virginity comes to define her role throughout the tale, while her innocence serves as her cardinal virtue. The viewer could associate this to the innocence of an audience before viewing a play for the first time. Before the play is ever seen the audience members are ?virgins? to that play, the actors have not enlightened their ignorance, much as Ferdinand has not enlightened Miranda?s ignorance of sexual pleasures.
Thus, the only character remaining is the monster Caliban. Throughout the play, the reader is never quite sure of Caliban and what he stands for. Though his monstrous appearance and evil ways show him as harsh, his speech remains among the most beautiful in the tale. Who or what is it that Caliban comes to represent? Perhaps the best way to look at this character is in his relations with the others in the tale. The reader is informed that there was a type of falling out between Prospero and his servant Caliban after the attempted rape of Miranda by the monster. The readers also become aware of the power struggle between the wizard and his slave, each claiming the island to be his paradise, and each trying to rid themselves of the other. Conceivably Caliban comes to represent the plays critic, sometimes harsh and brutal, but other times glorifying the work of the playwright. This would explain the beauty behind the speech of the monster, though his outer shell may be harsh, inside he speaks of the beauty and charm of the stage, the isle paradise. The rape of Miranda can also be explained using Caliban as the critic. Miranda?s innocence is disrupted by the evil thoughts of Caliban, much as the innocence of an audience can be disturbed after reading harsh words from a critic. Many may become disenchanted about a play, merely by focusing on what the critic may have to say about it.
A reader of The Tempest can easily see how Shakespeare uses the characters of his final play to say farewell to his audience for the last time. It can be assumed that Shakespeare found this type of farewell to be the most appropriate form to give to the followers of his theatre. What better way to say goodbye then through what they desire, his genius? By writing an allegorical look at the life of theatre as a final tribute, not only is Shakespeare saying goodbye in a classy way, he is also paying respects to those whom he leaves behind. One thing is certain: Shakespeare will always live on within the dreams and hopes of those who read his work. After all, as put by Prospero himself, ?We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with sleep.?