March 15: Tempest 4-5

How is Prospero’s transformation since the beginning of the story significant? Is this story postcolonial and what evidence from the last act supports you argument?

13 thoughts on “March 15: Tempest 4-5

  1. Prospero’s transformation is significant because throughout the story, he has the power to transform others; however, he ultimately ends up transforming himself the most. At the beginning of the tale he was bitter and vengeful, wanting to make his evildoers suffer for the pain they caused he and Miranda. He achieved this by using his magic to send a Tempest to disturb their journey and isolate them on the island. This transformed not only their journey, but their characters as well because they were forced to inhabit new surroundings. However, Prospero realizes that he cannot right any of their wrongs by using his magic; the only true way to move past his pain is through forgiveness. He says to Antonio, “Flesh and blood, You brother mine, … I do forgive thee” (5.1.79-83). This realization marks Prospero’s transformation, with an emphasis on the idea that magic was not necessary for his metamorphosis. The last act does have postcolonial elements seeing that Prospero, the colonizer, returns to Europe and relinquishes the land to Caliban and Ariel, the native inhabitants he had enslaved. Prospero also frees himself by abandoning the magic that allowed him to control Caliban. However, in a broader sense than the last act, the entire story is postcolonial because it depicts the power struggle between the natives (Caliban and Ariel) and the colonizers, namely Prospero.

    • I think the play does explore the power struggle between the natives and the colonizers, but the depiction of the natives is far from progressive. Prospero refers to Stephano as “sirrah,” which the footnotes indicate is a term for a social inferior. All are depicted as drunken fools. Caliban, the native leader, leaves the play by referring to himself as a “thrice-doubled ass,” emphasizing his foolishness and the superiority of the colonizers. So while the struggle is depicted, the work has an overall message of European superiority. So, I think the text could be viewed through a post-colonial lens, but the text itself is not a critique of colonization.

      • I would have to agree with what Will has said. Although the play does explore the notion of a power struggle through the actions of Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano, the overall message of the play does not condone their actions but rather condemns them. In Act V Caliban comes forward repentantly after his rebellion saying “I’ll be wise hereafter/ and seek for grace” (V. i. 351-353). He admits that he will henceforth act wisely which inherently suggests that his actions before this time were not wise; his decision to rebel was foolish. The play certainly does give mention to a power struggle, but the message is more of a warning against those who wish to rebel than an encouragement. Caliban, Trinculo, and Stephano spend the entire play acting foolishly trying to pull off a coup, and they are brought forward at the end of Act V to repent of their wrongdoing. At the end of the play everything returns to the status quo: Prospero has recovered his dukedom and the members of the inferior class return to their niche. This play reinforces the conservative ideal that things should remain the way they are and not change, therefore I would argue that this play is not postcolonial.

  2. Throughout the Tempest, Prospero uses his own magical powers to enact vengeance on all of those who have wronged him by forcing them to shipwreck on his island and subtly manipulating them through Ariel’s hidden interactions, eventually enthralling all of them. All of this is ultimately a selfish act, as Prospero is using his power to make himself feel better by creating the justice he feels these people deserve. What makes his transformation significant is that his choice to abandon his magic is completely selfless, brought upon when Ariel simply asks him to think about what he’s done from their perspective. He finds the realization that “the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance,” and frees them from his thrall so that he may forgive them for the wrongs they caused him. He sees this as the only way to truly put what has happened behind him, and it’s only now that he finds the resolution he had been seeking throughout the entirety of the Tempest.
    The Tempest can be seen and read through a Postcolonial lens, as there are elements that reflect this motif, such as Prospero’s relationship with Ariel or Caliban. But I feel like the Tempest in and of itself is more interested in Prospero’s growth as a character than trying to give any message of European superiority or Native equality. In the last act, the main emphasis is on Prospero giving up his power and apologizing to those he has wronged, even if they have wronged him in return. While Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo are portrayed as fools, this to me seems like Shakespeare showing the wide variety of characters, as is common in many of his works, amongst the shipwrecked rather than trying to make a specific statement, and even so, most of the scene’s focus is on Alonso and the realization that Ferdinand is alive and in love. While there are some elements that reflect a Postcolonial theme, I believe the weight of the scene and the play leans more towards the development and growth of Prospero as a character.

    • I agree with Michael’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s Tempest as a character piece rather than proto-postcolonial commentary seems to me to have more textual evidence. The nature of who is monstrous is largely left in the moral gray area, as Caliban, Prospero, Alonso and others all have wronged each other (if their accounts are to be believed). Prospero is clearly the dominant force behind most of the events of the play, as you note, and uses his magic for vengeance rather than justice – but are we to assume that in giving up his magic that Prospero repents of the slavery he forced upon Ariel and Caliban? His dukedom restored, is there any real righteousness in Prospero’s development, or has he manipulated everything since the first act? Just before he renounces his magic, Prospero brags of having “bedimmed the noontide sun…set roaring war” [Act V, sc I]. I read Ariel’s release is an act of charity, not genuine selflessness on Prospero’s part or an attempt at putting the past behind.

  3. Prospero’s realization that forgiveness will put the past behind him as opposed to magic is significant partly because his magic and desire for knowledge is part of the reason why he lost his throne in the first place. In that sense, his character arch is a sort of moral to the story that advocates for forgiveness over revenge, but it doesn’t necessarily state that knowledge is a bad thing given that Prospero turns his powers over to the audience when he says “in this bare island by your spell but release me from my bands” (pg. 169 lines 8-9). This action implies that while knowledge and power isn’t everything, as Prospero once thought it was, it is still something that is important and worth sharing with the world.

    I do think that certain elements of The Tempest can be interpreted as postcolonial, obviously the fact that there are natives (Ariel and Caliban) being forced into slavery and in Caliban’s case being oppressed and ridiculed. I didn’t find anything in the last act that I found particularly supportive of the idea that the play is commenting on European colonialism, but as others have already said, the struggle between Prospero and Caliban as well as the treatment of the two island natives at the hands of the Europeans who have landed there definitely have an undeniable parallel to European colonialism.

  4. The significance of Prospero’s transformation, is the fact that it’s more a devolution than it is an evolution; by that, I mean that, through moving on from magic, he became who he was before he had learned the spells in his book. However, now he must suffer the consequences his magic has caused. He says, “‘Now my charms are all o’erthrown,” but, are they, really? (V.) The eponymous storm resulted from his magic, causing the shipwreck, the marriage of Miranda and Ferdinand, etc. Prospero learns to forgive others for their wrongdoings, but, more so than that, he also had to learn how to forgive himself for what he’s caused through his magic. The irony, however, is that he may have never realized that without the use of magic. Postcolonial themes are definitely prevalent in the final acts of the play. Prospero’s treatment of Caliban, as well as the imprisonment of others, are postcolonial treatments of those whom Europeans deem inferior, but, simultaneously, Prospero realizes why his supposed superiority can be detrimental to both himself and those around him, ultimately learning to forgive others. Yes, the play has postcolonial context, but it’s ultimately portrayed negatively.

  5. Prospero’s transformation is significant because he has become a much more forgiving man with much sounder values. Before he finally releases the curse on Alonso and company, he states that “the rarer action is in virtue than in vengeance” (V.i.35-36). Thus, he has finally come to appreciate this fact. At the beginning of the play, he was blinded by his need for revenge. He cast a spell and created a tempest all to get a chance to take down a man who had wronged him more than a decade ago. However, as soon as he decided to cast off the curse, he was immediately rewarded. When he learned that it is important to have mercy on others, he was not only given back his dukedom, but he also gained his passage off the island that had trapped him for so long. His transformation is not as far-reaching as it perhaps should have been, though, because there are still lingering threads of post-colonialism in the last act, with Prospero being the colonizer. Prospero has taken over the island that was once Caliban’s home. Even as Prospero is leaving, he (the colonizer) has imprisoned the native (Caliban), a quite literal depiction of the affect that colonization has on native peoples. Though Prospero learns throughout the story to forgive his equals, he finds no such compassion for his inferiors, such as Caliban.

    • I agree with Ebby about how Prospero changes throughout the play and it is significant to the story. He definitely becomes a more forgiving man and I would even go as far as to say that he has become kind and less deceptive as well. In the very beginning of the play in act one scene one, we find out that Prospero had been omitting the truth about Miranda’s life from her for her whole life. He also leads people, like Caliban, to believe that he has very powerful magical abilities when in reality most of his magical energy and strength come from his servant Ariel. In the beginning of the play as well, Prospero talks down to people like Caliban and Ferdinand and is rather rude to them, and then he progresses and at the end he seems to have changed and doesn’t treat people in this manner anymore. I also agree with Alex when he was talking about how there are elements of postcolonial themes in the play because of the fact that there are slaves and everything, but the play isn’t entirely postcolonial because we can see some elements of colonialism like how there are a couple people who want to take over the island and become king of it, and there are even people in the play who want to kill the current king from where they came from so that they can assume control over the area and become king.

  6. Shakespeare’s The Tempest demonstrates the power of perception through the characterization of Prospero and his subjects, providing a social commentary on the politics and culture of his time. Prospero controls the plot through magic and manipulation. His conversations with Miranda, Ariel, and later Caliban, illustrate the ways he maintains control, through hypotonic speech, delusion, and fear. This draws out the importance of a ruler’s ability to create his own reality, so that his commoners will follow along and fear him. By dictating the way Ariel and Miranda think about their lives, he makes it impossible for them to imagine any good coming from challenging his authority. He also threatens Ariel and Caliban with magical torture, which enacts enough fear for them to obey. By merging the “old” and “new” worlds together in The Tempest, Shakespeare reveals a controversial perspective on European colonization. With irony, Shakespeare exposes the evils of the Europeans prescribing the natives to their constructed reality. In Act 1, scene 2 Caliban says to 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!” Caliban views Prospero as oppressive, while Prospero claims to have educated Caliban and thinks he is unappreciative. Caliban is displayed as a victim; his only hope for a sense of self, separate from the invaders, is what they have gifted him against them. The Tempest is laced with magic and deception, which Shakespeare employs to challenge political opinions and beliefs. The ending of the play, when Prospero acts on virtue rather than vengeance and adjusts his personal idea of justice to benefit others, shows some kind of character development. Ariel is able to evoke compassion and empathy in Prospero, restoring a sense of stability and allowing Shakespeare to cover up the disputed parts of the plot. The ending feels rushed though, as Shakespeare uses marriage to cover up a larger, unresolved problem. Also, Prospero doesn’t officially give up his magic until all the other characters have exited the stage.

  7. Prospero’s transformation has changed since the beginning by his conduct from the start of the play he seems to contradict the basic tenets of Christian forgiveness. Towards the end he listens to Ariel request, and in a way he becomes more holy. He decides to forgive the people who have betrayed him, but only when he became successful. Towards the end he is a grown character and his morals seem to improve.

  8. Prospero had a significant transformation over the course of the play. In the beginning of the play, Prospero shows signs of vengeance and anger towards people who have wronged him. He manipulates Ariel into carrying out deeds for him as well that are fueled from this vengeance. He changes later and shows forgiveness towards those same characters. This is shown when he chooses to give up magic completely and done so in a completely selfless fashion. By giving up magic and moving past pain by means of forgiveness, he is changed. The aspects of postcolonial could be seen in the friction between the power struggle between what can be considered the natives and the colonizers. This to me seems to be one perspective and the play overall does not seem to dwell to heavily on this.

  9. Prospero was a selfish man in the beginning of the play. He was out for revenge against those who had wronged him in some way like his brother or Caliban. He didn’t acknowledge the loyalty that Ariel had provided him for so long and gave empty promises of freeing him. By the end of the play, Prospero grew into someone that was willing to put overall good before his own selfish desires. He frees Ariel, relinquishes control of the island to Caliban and Ariel, reconciles the feud with his brother and forgives him, and denounces magic for the rest of his days. It is this shift from selfish to unselfish that is significant because it is what resolves all of the present problems by the end of the play. The play itself is not really postcolonial because it promotes colonization and the idea of some being better than others and therefore being more entitled.

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