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Free Study Guide-The Tempest by William Shakespeare-Free Book Notes
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This long expository scene falls neatly into four sections: Prospero's narration of his past; his telling of his freeing of Ariel and the subsequent history of their relationship; his explanation of his encounter with Caliban and the story of his past; and finally the first meeting between Ferdinand and Miranda. Prospero's narration serves the same purpose as the prologue in Greek tragedy; it is the means by which the audience receives information it needs in order to comprehend the plot. Through this scene with its several flashbacks, the audience is acquainted with some important events that occur before the action of the play begins.

Prospero first tells the story of how he and his young daughter came to live on the island. Miranda has little or no recollection of arriving on the island; therefore, she, like the audience, is hearing for the first time the story of how she, with her father, was tragically sent away from the dukedom Prospero once called home. As the Duke of Milan, Prospero is presented as a tragic figure. He had been such a ruler that the outward show of greatness and the exercise of princely power had mattered less to him than the enrichment of his mind. "My library", he confides to Miranda, "was dukedom large enough".

Some critics judge Prospero to be a weak ruler who allowed his dukedom to be stolen, most scholars, however, think that Shakespeare intended Prospero to be seen as a man so wise and full of love for learning that while he was making himself a better person, his power-hungry brother stole his kingdom from him. Ironically, on his enchanted island, Prospero has everything; he is endowed with love from Miranda, wisdom from experience, and power from his magic. As a result, Prospero is no longer seen as a tragic figure, for he is in control. In addition, he does not seem bitter or hateful to his enemies even though he is aware of the wrongs done to him; instead, Prospero is curious and speculative as to what can be done to correct those wrongs.

As Prospero relates the story of their arrival on the island, he keeps breaking off to call Miranda to attention, though she is carefully listening as one who has never heard the story of her childhood. Like the heroines in other dramatic romances of Shakespeare, Miranda plays the role of the regenerative daughter to her father. Her innocent optimism, like that of a cherub, bolstered Prospero's spirits and prevented him from despair during their dangerous sea- voyage to the island.

During the scene, much is learned about Prospero's only child. As Miranda watches the wrecking of the ship with horrified eyes, she reveals that she is compassionate; she begs her father to still the storm with his magical powers. Like her father, she is presented as a kind, wise, and likable person with a mild temperament. Prospero acknowledges that Miranda has only a vague remembrance of her past life; therefore, he tells her how they have come to live on this enchanted island.

When Prospero finishes narrating his story about the wrongs done to him, Miranda asks her father what has caused the sea-storm. He replies that by strange accident and bountiful fate, his enemies have sailed close to the island. He has "engineered" the raging tempest with the help of his magical powers and the agency of the spirit Ariel, so the wrongdoers will be forced to land. Through his intuition and knowledge, Prospero has deduced that this is his opportunity to correct the past wrongs and regain his position as the rightful Duke. He plans to take advantage of the opportunity he has at hand, for his stars are favorable. He knows that if he does not take action against his enemies, his own life will become deplorably miserable. Speaking almost like an astrologer, Prospero says, "My zenith doth depend upon / A most auspicious star, whose influence / If now I court not, but omit, my fortunes / Will ever after droop." In essence, Fate has delivered his enemies to him, and Prospero feels he is called upon to dispense justice

Ariel is introduced as Prospero's helper, and details are given about how Prospero rescued him twelve years ago from bondage in the pine tree. As a result, Ariel has been a faithful servant ever since; he was instrumental in helping to raise the storm and in bringing the royal party safely to the island. In this scene, Prospero instructs Ariel to go and bring Ferdinand, who is alone and certain that his father has drowned in the shipwreck. Ariel uses his beautiful, lyrical songs to lure Ferdinand and lead him to Prospero. Ariel's first song "Come unto these yellow sands" implies the change in scene from the violent storm-tossed sea to the peaceful island. The second, "Full fathom five thy father lies" indicates to Ferdinand that his father has undergone a 'sea-change', and that he should not mourn. The 'sea-change' of which Ariel sings to Ferdinand is intentionally misleading, because Ferdinand's father is not dead; instead, it seems to represent the spiritual transformation which can come only after great suffering and pain. In Shakespeare, music is a powerful symbol of harmony restored and life miraculously retrieved from death.

While Ariel is a light and airy creature with superhuman powers, Caliban is a sub-human creature, who is a combination of animal qualities and human frailties. He is symbolically an evil spirit of the earth, and as the son of Sycorax the witch, he has inherited her vile and evil nature. He has been made into Prospero's slave, performing all sorts of menial tasks, as a punishment for attempting to rape Miranda. But Shakespeare does not portray Caliban as totally evil; there are moments when he sounds human, and sometimes he is almost as lyrical as Ariel, especially when he talks of a happier time in the past when Prospero loved him like a son. The relationship between Prospero and Caliban had begun with a simple exchange of benefit; Prospero loved Caliban and taught him language, while Caliban had shown Prospero all the fertile and barren places on the island. Caliban now uses the language to curse Prospero and to accuse him of stealing his rightful kingdom, much like Antonio has stolen the dukedom from Prospero. The difference is that Prospero is kind and wise, while Caliban is uncivilized, evil, and animalistic.

Some critics feel that Caliban has been included in the play as an analogy to the European colonization of many parts of the world, especially to the domination of the aborigines in Africa. The process of colonization, primarily by the British, was rapidly expanding in Shakespeare's time. If Caliban is viewed as the victim of Prospero's colonialization, he can become a symbol of all slaves that are entrapped due to European colonization. In this respect, Caliban almost becomes sympathetic, but his nature is so evil that the audience has difficulty believing he is victimized or feeling real pity for his plight.

Another important feature of the play introduced in this scene is the all-pervading influence of magic. The society of Shakespeare's time was very interested in magic and distinguished between 'good' or 'white' magic, as practiced by Prospero, and 'black' or 'bad' magic, as used by Sycorax to terrorize the spirits of the island. The audience would have easily accepted that Prospero could control the island by use of white magic.

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Free Study Guide-The Tempest by William Shakespeare-Free Plot Synopsis


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