While reading William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”, one questions himself or herself if the main character’s Prospero’s rule is just or not. To prove his or her viewpoint, one should analyze Prospero’s choices to explain his values; one should also examine and discuss the treatment and the attitude of Prospero toward the other characters of the play – Ariel, Caliban, Miranda, and others, as through it the Prospero’s character expresses his nature. Another issue that would help in the understanding of Prospero’s character as a whole, his motives, and his rule, is his justification of his choices and deeds.
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“The Tempest” by William Shakespeare is a mysterious, nonhistorical play that is mainly based on an unjust act. By the unjust act, one considers the usurpation of the throne of Prospero by his brother. And here is represented a twofold situation, as Prospero strives to re-establish justice by the restoration of his power.
Thus, one can assert that the idea of justice, which is originally represented in the story as the restoration of Prospero’s power, is highly subjective. Such an idea concerns the view of only one character that is in control of all other character’s fate and freedom.
Though Prospero considers himself as a victim of his brother’s injustice and the bitter lot, his idea of what should be regarded as the just and unjust may seem a sort of hypocritical. For example, being furious that his brother overthrown him from the throne, he has no remorse that he had enslaved Ariel and Caliban to fulfill his plans and achieve his own egoistic goals. I refer to Caliban, then his character asserts that he was nice and kind to Prospero, but the thankless and grim Prospero repaid Caliban’s kindness and good attitude by imprisoning him (Shakespeare, I, ii, p. 347). Nevertheless, if regard Prospero’s point of view, then it appears that he stopped being kind to the former one as he had tried to violate Miranda (Shakespeare, I, ii, pp. 347 – 351).
Prospero is tyrannical with Ariel; at the same time, the former think that he treats the latter in a just manner. In the episode, where Ariel reminds him about the promise to release the spirit (Ariel) of his debt and duties to Prospero early, if he would perform them willingly and faithfully, one can see that Prospero becomes extremely angry and threatens to return Ariel to his previous imprisonment. Prospero is unjust and unfair to Ferdinand as well. He leads the young man to his daughter Miranda, but then captures and enslaves him.
Following this, one can firmly state that throughout the entire play, Prospero’s justification of his choices and deeds, and his sense of justice occur extremely one-sided. They are just basically determined by what is good and beneficial for Prospero only. The play does not offer any other authority or justice higher than Prospero that could replace Prospero’s interpretation of various deeds and events. And this makes the play itself morally equivocal, doubtful, and ambiguous.
But, when the story of the play develops and begins to concern the ideas of creativity and art, Prospero’s sense and interpretation of justice start to seem a little bit sympathetic. This can be proven by the means which he uses to finally achieve his idea of justice; he tries to enable others to undertake his (Prospero’s) view of justice and the world order. Thus, the idea of justice of Prospero is imposed upon certain events.
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To persuade the other characters in his rightness concerning every single case, Prospero uses magic and tricks. His magic books are represented as a symbol of his power and as a certain guarantee of his superiority. This might be viewed in Caliban’s talk with Stefano and Trinculo: “Remember / First to possess his books / for without them / He’s but a sot” (Shakespeare, III, ii, pp. 86 – 88).
These books might be also viewed as a means of Prospero’s blind desire to withdraw from the entire world. And Miranda becomes a victim of such desire. She is isolated at the mysterious island with Prospero. Nevertheless, at the end of the story, Prospero forgives all of his enemies and releases all of his slaves; he even cedes his magic power and tricks (he has to do so because he wants to return to the world where his knowledge has some other value rather than just power), so one just sees him as an old man who can be hardly accused in anything.
Prospero’s character, created by William Shakespeare, first appears to the reader as a sympathetic one because of his brother’s unjust deed. To achieve justice, Prospero strives to restore his power. But such absolute power and control over the other characters’ fate and freedom questions the rightness of Prospero’s version of justice. It is impossible to assert, whether this character’s rule is just or unjust, whether he is just in his deeds and choices or not; one may only suggest that Prospero tried to establish his concept of justice by making others undertake his vision of justice and world order. And this created the sense of justice’s ambiguity in the story “Tempest”.
The Tempest. The Pelican Shakespeare. Ed. Peter Holland New York: Penguin, 1999.