Power Struggle in The Tempest

Throughout this play, we can see many attempts by the characters to establish their own form of rule. Prospero’s brother having taken over the thrown is a key catalyst that causes Prospero to search for or create a new kind of kingdom/government. Prospero exhibits his control over Ariel and over Miranda in an attempt to feel more powerful. This is hypocritical of Prospero since we know that he felt betrayed by his brother for taking over control.

Ariel reminds Prospero that he promised to grant him freedom, and Prospero replies, “Dost thou forget / From what a torment I did free thee?” He sets himself up as a sort of savior to Ariel so that Ariel will retreat back under Prospero’s control. He is playing mind games with Ariel, trying to twist reality to his own benefit and make Ariel believe he is somehow helping him by enslaving him.

In her own way, Miranda attempts to exert her own control over Caliban. In 1.2, she says the following:

“But thy vile race,

Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which good natures

Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou

Deservedly confined into this rock,

Who hadst deserved more than a prison.”

She says when Caliban uttered phrases that didn’t make sense, she helped him understand: “I endowed thy purposes with words that made them known.” Miranda criticizes Caliban’s lack of understanding and blames it on his race. She places herself above Caliban and says that it was pity that drove her to try to help him learn.

Caliban has attempted to rape Miranda. This is his attempt at retaliating against Prospero and his invasion of the island. I think the text says that if he had succeeded in his attempt, he would have populated the island with more “Calibans.” Here we can see Caliban trying to create a sort of community/”army” of sorts that is on his side and will help him “fight” against Prospero’s invasion.

The power struggle on this island can be viewed as a microcosm exhibiting the effects of the increase in exploration of new lands. The inherent struggle that arises when a country tries to colonize a new land is portrayed throughout this play. This is perhaps showing the ego-trips that people can go on when they enter into new territory and want to establish themselves as leaders and rulers.

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3 thoughts on “Power Struggle in The Tempest

  1. caitgee7

    The idea of a power struggle on an island with little inhabitants seems comical. This thought makes me laugh because all these different characters of the play are running around the island (after experiences hardship or being shipwrecked) and are laying claim over what? Basically nothing at all. Caliban thinks he will be the ruler of the island after Sycorax dies, but Prospero takes over and uses Caliban as his slave. Prospero also uses magical power and other characters to his advantage. Prospero is essentially dethroned by his brother, but in seeking revenge he uses Ariel and Miranda to try to regain control. Miranda is used as a pawn with a marriage to Ferdinand, her happiness isn’t really a true consideration. (It might just be lucky she falls in love with Ferdinand at first glance.)

    As you’ve pointed out, everyone is trying to gain some form of control either on the island itself or over other characters. It’s ironic because does this show, that in the end, no one really has control? Another aspect to consider in relation to Caliban is that although he ultimately fails (on multiple occasions) to gain any sort of power, his only power is the education he gains from Miranda. He gains an education but abuses it with using the language/words he learns in a negative way- cursing and carrying on.

    These dynamics and power struggles are just the beginning of the shifting dynamics of power within the play. Everyone is greedy to rule, or escape being ruled over. However, it will never be possibly for everyone to be happy or for power to be equal. Someone must win at the expense of others. The power struggle continues, and we will see how it all comes to an end.

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  2. klindberg94

    There is definitely a fight for control of this tiny, unknown island. We see Prospero and Miranda, who just happened upon the island, attempt to basically brainwash the native Caliban. Caliban does not understand anything about European culture besides what he has been taught by Prospero and Miranda, and as we discussed in class, anything he does must have to do with ideas planted in his head by either of the two. Caliban was possibly trying to rape Miranda because 1) he thought that (since he must have been told about sex/love) she would be into it, or 2) he had nature hormonal/animalistic instincts to reproduce and while rape should never be justified, we never will know just why he says he wanted to populate the island with little Calibans. Perhaps the only said that because that is what Prospero accused him of doing, and he didn’t know better. By basically teaching Caliban everything, Prospero and Miranda overpower Caliban and while he learns that he should also fight for power, he never really stands a chance.

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  3. mcgovere1

    Your post is very interesting. I for sure saw the power struggle between Caliban and Prospero, but how you pointed out Miranda and Ariel wanting power also is something I never realized. The power struggle you talk about with Miranda and Caliban is also interesting. It is a known fact that rape usually occurs to assert power over someone else. So Caliban for sure could have been doing that. But then as in class it was pointed out that Miranda and Prospero only spoke about the event it was never shown in the play so how do we know how that happened? So I wonder how Miranda’s possible cry of rape could play into this power struggle?

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