Prospero & Picasso: Art & Illusion

Reading through Shakespeare’s final play, “The Tempest”, I get an over-whelming feeling as if this play were particularly cathartic for the play-wright. Prospero is effectively the “Director” of the events in the Tempest–he did in fact cause the Tempest, and brought all-these starry-eyed, confused people into his magical world. Why? Basically some unfinished business: He had been betrayed and forsaken, usurped of his rightful place as Duke. Prospero’s endgame is then to return home to Milan, become who he was “meant to be”. He does this by wrecking all the nobles from his past on this island, scaring them to death with mysteries and illusions, feigned misfortunes (Alonso & Ferdinand believing each other dead), and a rigamarole of pranks. Prospero even puts aside aspirations of revenge against his brother, Antonio, revenge we would understand given the circumstances. However, Prospero’s plan is much more clever, and ultimately peaceful than that. By subjecting the ship-wrecked party to the barrage of mirage, the company must fight to maintain sanity by trying to make sense of their seemingly hopeless and wild situation–how humbling, then, to find out that all of these frightening horrors were created by an old acquaintance most would’ve liked to forget.

Prospero’s art of illusion is a way of guiding all of the characters on the island to their fortune and destiny. Characters like Antonio & Sebastian who used the power of illusion to usurp Prospero & Alonso are equally undone in their schemes by the illusions of Prospero. Alonso, a man morning the loss of his heir, is then made to recover what he lost, having seen the experience of “losing what is yours”. Of course good ol’ Gonzalo we know is virtuous in himself, who’s take of the illusions is simply, “Whether this be or no, I’ll not say”.

This play goes to lengths to show us how Theater and illusion can be used to show the truth that lies in every person–their choices, their perspectives which create illusions of identity, aspirations to be someone, something. At the end of the play, Prospero begs his audience to release him from the spell of being Prospero, the old weary mage on an island, ready to return to the role he was meant to play, his “real role”.
Pablo Picasso famously said “Art is the lie which enables us to realize the truth.”


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