An Evolution of Prospero's Character in The Tempest

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An Evolution Of Prospero’s Character in The Tempest

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The Tempest

In The Tempest, Prospero shows quite a development in himself starting as a cruel and vengeful sorcerer, to finding the humanity and forgiveness within himself. Prospero starts the play by seeking revenge for what Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian did to him twelve years prior but later finds that virtue is a better answer than revenge. I agree in some sense that Prospero realizes that knowledge and power aren’t everything and he has much to learn from normal human beings, but I also don’t believe Prospero is really giving up all of his power so he may never learn and act upon the true definition of virtue.

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Throughout the play Prospero showed he had a plan for how he wanted things to turn out. He starts the play by summoning a great storm to bring the ship of his enemies to his island. But significantly Prospero wanted them be unharmed and safely at the shore, Prospero and Ariel converse after the ship is brought in:

PROSPERO. But are they, Ariel, safe?

ARIEL. Not a hair perished. On their sustaining garments not a blemish, (1.2.216-218)

This conversation between Prospero and Ariel clearly shows that Prospero has no real intention of hurting Alonso, Antonio, and Sebastian because he easily could have had his vengeance by disposing of them during the storm he used to bring them to the island. While this shows a possibly more human and kind side to Prospero, it also shows that Prospero has a plan and sees his enemies as his only option to return to Italy and a better life for himself and Miranda.

Prospero’s interactions with Miranda show his human side much more than his interactions with many of the other characters. Prospero’s plan also includes bringing Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, to Miranda; for them to eventually fall in love and get married. When Miranda first sees Ferdinand she instantly falls in love, just as Prospero desires:

MIRANDA. I might call him a thing divine; for nothing natural I ever saw so noble.

PROSPERO. It goes on, I see, As my soul prompts it. Spirit, fine spirit, I’ll free thee within two days for this. (1.2.418-422)

Prospero’s plan is working out very well to this point as he has his enemies in captivity and he has no found a husband for his daughter. Conveniently the husband Prospero finds for Miranda is the heir to the King of Naples, which possibly shows Prospero’s constant desire for power, as Ferdinand is quite the man to pick for Miranda to fall in love with. Prospero has a clear plan to come back to Italy and live a better and normal life, this plan was furthered by making his daughter happy and marrying her into the royal family of Milan.

While Prospero’s plan throughout the play also showed how terrible he can be to the ones he finds inferior to himself. Prospero shows his cruel and vindictive nature by doing many terrible acts. He treats Ariel very poorly and threatens him with a return to the torture and enslavement of Sycorax. Prospero also treats Caliban with no respect and sees him only as a disgusting creature created by a witch. These examples show Prospero’s harsh nature, mainly used to conserve and consolidate his power over whom he feels are inferior to him. They are also habits that he is familiar with and have proved good to himself after twelve years of being trapped on an island. During Prospero’s time on the island he has lost any sympathy for others and sees himself as better than his inferiors. Only when Ariel, a spirit lacking the emotions of a human being, opens up to Prospero and tells him of the suffering being done by Alonso, Antonio, Sebastian, and even his friend Gonzalo during their imprisonment; is it that Prospero seems to find the empathy within himself to forgive his enemies:

ARIEL. They cannot budge till your release. The king, his brother, and yours abide all three distracted, and the remainder mourning over them, brimful of sorrow and dismay; but chiefly him that you termed, sir, the good old Lord Gonzalo. His tears runs down his beard like winter’s drops from eaves of reeds. Your charm so strongly works ‘em, that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender.

PROSPERO. Dost thou think so, spirit?

ARIEL. Mine would, sir, were I human.

PROSPERO. And mind shall. (5.1.11-20)

This scene continues with Prospero asking Ariel to release the prisoners and Prospero giving up his book and staff, relinquishing him to a normal human being. Prospero giving up his magic abilities is the most blatant example of Prospero changing, relinquishing the only thing that makes him better than the ones he first saw as inferior. Prospero is now able to show humility and benevolence to others no matter his prior relationship to them. He is able to forgive Alonso and Antonio for unseating him as the Duke of Milan and says he will help them sail to Naples and then retire in Milan.

Prospero’s plan worked just as he wanted it to; starting with the storm bringing in King Alonso’s ship, then getting his daughter a husband, eventually freeing himself of his power so he can show empathy on those that did him wrongly, and finally being able to forgive his enemies and sail safely home to Italy. I find Prospero does realize that knowledge and power isn’t everything in life and he learns that love and forgiveness are a much better alternative to hate and revenge. But I still find Prospero desires power and control over the situations that have anything to do with him. Throughout the whole play there is not a moment when Prospero isn’t in control and isn’t dictating the situation for the outcome he desires. While his end goal is seemingly a moral one, the way Prospero gets to his solution is one that should be questioned but it is likely to be the necessary method to get exactly what he wants. Overall, I believe that Prospero has changed from a sorcerer who desires knowledge and power and values them above everything, to a man who has found empathy and forgiveness within himself to bring a better life for, not only himself, but the people around him.

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