The Meaning Behind The Tempest

Before actually reading the Tempest, I read the Shakespeare Norton’s introduction on the play, as I was reading, I had read that The Tempest was most likely one of the last plays that Shakespeare had written. It was also said that he retired soon after The Tempest was printed. The reason why I found this interesting was that if this was in fact his last play, he had decided to incorporate the many different plots he has developed over time into this one play, “Unlike many of Shakespeare’s plays, The Tempest does not appear to have a single dominant source for its plot, but it is a kind of echo chamber of Shakespearean motifs.”(3055) Out of all of the different plots we have come in contact so far in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Othello, Twelfth Night, Richard the Third, and maybe Romeo and Juliet for those who may have read it in high school, I began to notice some similar plots within all the plays. With only having read a few acts so far there are only a few that I can point out.

One of the very first plots I became aware of was, “the harnessing of magical powers.” (3055) Prospero, who used to be the Duke of Milan has been stranded on an island for twelve years with his daughter Miranda. Prospero is a man who is very into magic; we notice this during the very first act of the play when Prospero uses magic to create a great storm, “If by your art, my dearest father, you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them.” (1.ii.1-2)  Prospero’s reason for crafting this storm is because ultimately he is trying to get things back to the way things used to be. He wants to go back to being the Duke of Milan and somehow manage to get himself and his daughter off the island safely. Prospero’s “magic” is also a way for him to demonstrate his power. Prospero did not necessarily lose his magic when he lost his Dukedom to his brother but he did lose power and control over the people of Milan. Prospero’s magic is a way for him to still feel like he has power and can still control certain situations.

The next plot we encounter is the, “murderous hatred of one brother for another.” (3055) Neither Prospero nor his brother Antonio have been murdered, but by certain acts you can tell that Antonio wants Prospero gone in order to become the new Duke of Milan. While Prospero was studying magic, he allowed his control of the government to slip, “In dignity, and for the liberal arts without a parallel- those being all my study, the government I cast upon my brother, and to my state grew stranger, being transported and rapt in secret studies.” (1.ii.73-77)As this was happening, and Prospero became more focused in on his books, Antonio went to one of Prospero’s enemies, The King of Naples, to strike up a deal, “hearkens my brother’s suite; which was that he, in lieu o’th’ premises of homage and I know not how much tribute, should presently extirpate me and mine out of dukedom, and confer fair Milan, with all the honors, on my brother. Whereon, A treacherous army levied, one midnight fated to th’ purpose did Antonio open the gates of Milan; and, I’th’ dead of darkness, this ministers for the’ purpose hurried thence me and thy crying self.” (1.ii.122-132) This deal between The King of Naples and Antonio is the deal that had Prospero and his daughter Miranda abandoned on an island far away from Milan for many years. Although Antonio was not murderous towards Prospero, we can sense that he did this because he wanted to be the one in power.

We also come across, “the painful necessity for a father to let go of his daughter.” (3055) It is towards the end of act one where we come to know Ferdinand, “A thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw so noble.” (1.ii.423-424) Prospero notices that both his daughter and Ferdinand have fallen in love at first sight. Prospero conducts a plan to torture Ferdinand to make sure that his love for Miranda is as true as he claims it is. This is also a test to make sure that both Ferdinand and Miranda understand the value of true love. It isn’t until act four that Prospero tells Ferdinand that he has treated him too harshly and for that he will repay him, “Your compensation makes amends, for I have given you a third of my life- or that for which I live –who once again I tended to thy hand. All thy vexations were but my trails of thy love, and thou hast strangely stood the test. Here, afor heaven I ratify this my rich gift.” (4.i.2-8) Prospero gives Ferdinand his daughter’s hand in marriage, he also warns Ferdinand that if he has sex with Miranda before they wed that their marriage will be doomed.

This incorporation of many plots and themes into one play is intriguing. If The Tempest was in fact his last play, it takes all of Shakespeare’s greatest works and puts them all together into one, thus creating the Tempest and ending his career with a bang.


3 thoughts on “The Meaning Behind The Tempest

  1. melissanau

    I too have heard that this was said to be Shakespeare’s “last play,” which makes a lot of sense with the line you cited, stating that The Tempest acts as an all encompassing “echo chamber of Shakespeare motifs.” He definitely does seem to be “going out with a bang,” especially with the new stage technologies we’ve discussed in class today, making the ship wreck in the opening scene possible. You did a good job in analyzing the play’s introduction; to expand you could have further discussed the ideas of magic within the text (Prospero’s cloak, books, Ariel, etc).

  2. hackb

    The Tempest is probably one of Shakespeare’s most intriguing plays because it feels very progressive (for his time). It deals with many themes that appear to be normal and expected to us today. The Tempest also has a somewhat different feel than many of his other works. Like you said, it’s supposed to be one of his latest works, and it marks the progression and evolution that he made over time. Many ideas that he dealt with in the past appear in The Tempest and seem to get summed up, almost as though he knew he was going to stop writing after this.

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