Summary: Power as a Dominant Theme Throughout William Shakespeare´s Play

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When people talk about power, most of them think of power in forms of money, wealth, political power or just being stronger than others. However, many forget about a simple power everyone uses in everyday life: The power of language. Language is so powerful it allows you to have control over others. The question arises if the power of language is more powerful than the “common sense” powers nobody forgets of. Throughout William Shakespeare´s play The Tempest, power is a dominant theme. But again, next to Prospero´s and Ariel´s magical powers many do not recognize that Shakespeare sheds light on the use of language as a mean of power. He suggests that something as simple as language is so powerful that with the correct use of language and a focused purpose, it allows for power and control over others. In the following, the main character, Prospero, the right owner of the dukedom of Milan, who was banned from his home and ends up on a deserted island with his daughter Miranda, will mainly be used as an example. He is a powerful magician who has control over his spirit Ariel and his slave Caliban.

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To start with, Shakespeare suggests that language allows for the power of taking advantage of others to benefit from it. When Prospero first comes to the island, the only other being (except Ariel) he finds is Caliban, the son of the dead which Sycorax, the former owner of the island. Caliban is deformed and Prospero teaches him his language. However, he does not teach him his language out of kindness or good intentions but rather out of ghastly intentions. He does this to take advantage of him and seize him. He could not take advantage of Caliban in the ways he does without teaching him not only to speak but also to understand his language. Being able to speak Prospero´s language, Caliban tells him where all the good and profitable places of the islands are and how Prospero can benefit from them. By understanding his language Prospero orders Caliban commands and threatens him: “What I command, I’ll rack thee with old cramps. He therewith controls over Caliban. This demonstrates how one can manipulate another and take advantage of him just by having the skill to effectively use language. It allows for control over others.

Furthermore, Shakespeare demonstrates that language gives you the power to have an identity that can lead to control. As Caliban was taught Prospero´s language, he starts defending himself against Prospero: “This Island´s mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou takest away from me” . This indicates that language gives you the power and ability to tell your own story, to tell who you are and what you own, it allows you to be and become someone and finally gives you an identity. Without an identity, one cannot control others. Language gives you the identity you need to have the power of control. Caliban then even starts cursing Prospero: “You taught me language, and my profit on´t Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you For learning me your language” . He figures out how powerful he can be by speaking Prospero’s language and using it effectively. While it might not allow him to have control over Prospero, it allows him to control in which direction their conversation is going. Caliban is able to turn on him with the use of language. This takes away the full control Prospero has over him. This means that language gives you the power to make someone a little bit weaker. It gives you the possibility to control how much control others have upon you.

Furthermore, Shakespeare argues that every good storyteller uses the power of language to convince and influence the audience. Prospero tells the audience how he and Miranda came to the island. However, the audience only gets to hear Prospero´s view of the story. He has all the power to create a convincing story to make his brother look selfish and mean because of the language he is able to use. We, the audience, obviously believe Prospero because he sounds very convincing and again is the only narrator. Until the play begins, he never told Miranda who she really is, what her story is and where she comes from. 15 years of her life she is told to be someone that she has never been, which is simply caused by the power of language. Here, we can see how powerful language can be in order to tell a story. Being capable of using this skill makes you convince others and control what they think and believe, sometimes even what another person believes of themselves. In this case, Prospero makes not only Miranda but also Caliban believe in the story he wants them to believe by effectively using language.

Finally, Shakespeare makes clear that the use of language is even more powerful than revenge and hatred. At the end of the play, Prospero forgives his brother even though he sends him into exile without food or any resources to survive and does not care what happens to him or Miranda. However, Ariel speaks up in his own voice and states his own opinion that Prospero should forgive his brother: “Your charm so strongly works’em that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender.” Ariel´s skill to effectively use language is so powerful that he talks Prospero into forgiving Antonio. Shakespeare demonstrates that language itself is full of a great deal of power reuniting family and friends back together. It is so powerful that it makes it possible to strongly influence others on their thoughts and actions. Language leads you back to the right way.

All in all, it clearly becomes obvious that language is more powerful than other powers mentioned in the beginning, even though it is many times forgotten. Language is a mean of power and control. The effective use of language makes a person, no matter who that might be, more powerful. It has always been a powerful mean to control others. Starting from Nazi Germany in which Hitler took advantage of his ability to effectively use language to control over the whole German population. In Canada, Indigenous people were forbidden to use their mother language and thereby were controlled by the Canadian Government. Nowadays, language is still used to strongly discriminate against others and thereby humiliate groups of minorities. With that purposeful use of language, the powerful have control over the discriminated ones

Or even in court: the one who has major skills to create the best story and argument to convince the jury wins and the other one gets the death penalty in the worst-case scenario. Language plays a great significance in everyone´s daily life and is very powerful which Shakespeare clearly demonstrates in The Tempest. The given examples show that the most powerful is not the one who has the most money or is the strongest, but the one who is able to effectively use the power of language.   

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