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The Phaedrus and The Tempest: Compare & Contrast

Such notions as personal identity or the Self have always been a subject of thorough psychological analysis. It is believed that under certain circumstances, the way in which a human being defines oneself may change. Writers and philosophers have always tried to explore this transformation. This process has been eloquently described in Plato’s book “The Phaedrus” and in Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.” Naturally, the two authors try to do in drastically different ways.

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Overall, it is quite possible for us to say that in terms of plot development, “The Tempest” is not a typical play of Shakespeare. The thing is that, as a rule, the dramatist gave preference to direct chronological order, but this comedy differs from the rest of his works. In particular, the opening scenes in the majority of Shakespeare’s comedies outline the development of the plot, whereas in “The Tempest,” the first scene gives the reader vertically no clues about what the play is mostly about. Only as the story progresses we may learn some information about the main characters. In this respect, Shakespeare wants Prospero to act as a narrator because the author wants to make the reader look through the eyes of the protagonist.

We may say that Prospero, the protagonist redefines himself several times: first, when he is forced to live on an isolated island, secondly, when he finally meets his rival and brother Alonso. When Prospero is exiled from his dukedom, he is still able to act as a true master. In fact, he becomes a true master of this place, where everyone under his command. It seems that Prospero has invented a new dukedom for himself, where he may have unlimited authority. In order to substantiate this statement, we refer to Gonzalo’s words, who says that Prospero has found “his dukedom in a poor isle” (Shakespeare, 138)

The second transformation is mostly connected with his daughter Miranda, when he finally analyzes that he has something more precious than power, particularly his daughter. However, it seems that the protagonist is still more concerned with authority.

Shakespeare describes the genesis of Prospero, showing how the views and beliefs of the main character change with time passing. In addition to that the playwright attracts the reader’s attention to this inner development by means of some stylistic devices and symbols, whereas Plato gives preference to logical argument. Socrates, the protagonist of many Plato works (and his teacher) represents the philosopher’s views. First, it should be pointed out that Prospero is a former Duke of Milan, and certainly once, he was a man of power, however, he was banished from the country, and now he has to live on the isolated island. This man is accompanied only by his daughter Miranda, who does not anything about his past. Although it is not explicitly stated in the text, it is quite possible for us to say that Shakespeare stresses the idea that in the overwhelming majority of cases, people define themselves in the wrong way or attach importance to some minor aspects of their life. As a result, they are not able to evaluate their actions in an adequate way. For instance, he calls his brother “perfidious” (Shakespeare, 14). It should be also taken into consideration that he refers to oneself in the third person, he says,

“And Prospero the prime duke being so reputed
in dignity. and for liberal arts
Without a parallel !” (Shakespeare, 15)

The main character believes that he was unjustly deprived of his title and, what is more important the power. He claims that his brother Alonso is a usurper, however as it turns out, Prospero also wants to assume full control over other people, surrounding him. It will not be an exaggeration to say power is a sort of entertainment for him. In order to substantiate this statement, we may discuss the way in which he treats Ariel, whom Prospero is very reluctant to set free in spite of all his appeals. Moreover, he chooses to play with Ferdinand and his daughter Miranda, the protagonist departs the protagonist separates them for a while, though he knows it perfectly well that they are in love with each other.

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To a certain degree, Prospero believes himself to be a playwright or even puppeteer. In this respect, it should be mentioned that Shakespeare deliberately makes Ferdinand and Miranda play chess, to emphasize the idea that these events remind a game of chess, and Prospero is the main player. This symbol also indicates that the main character mostly defines himself and a man, who above all desires power, which has become his main priority.

Only at the very end of the play, Shakespeare makes Prospero more compassionate and therefore more sympathetic. Namely, the main character is able to forgive his brother, Alonso, the person, who took his dukedom. In addition to that, he finally thinks about the happiness of his daughter. He also sets Aerial free, though very reluctantly.

Unlike Shakespeare, Plato does not focus on power in particular, he mostly stresses the idea that very often, a human being has a distorted image of oneself, why he or she may be unable to correctly identify his or her main goals. Socrates, Plato’s teacher and the main character of “The Phaedrus” says, “I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self” (Plato, 5). Throughout the text, Socrates stresses the fact that that people may often be ignorant though they do not realize it.

“The Phaedrus” is constructed in the form of a dialogue or even dispute between Socrates and Phaedrus. The opponent of the famous philosopher attempts to prove that the art of rhetoric relies on the knowledge of truth:, Socrates rejects this idea by saying that the truth is a subjective notion and it can be easily distorted.

While speaking about Plato’s idea of the Self, we should say that he stresses the significance of doubt, which allows a person to a correct image of oneself. Socrates says that to some extent, every wise man is prone to “doubt” whereas fools always reject doubt deeming it unnecessary (Plato, 5).In Plato’s opinion, the ability to question the rectitude of one’s actions is the necessary condition for any person, who claims to be wise.

In addition to that, Plato argues thatthat a person must realize that such notion as absolute truth does not exist. What a human being knows about oneself exists only in his or her consciousness. The author wants to prove that the perception of the world and oneself is often subjective, and thus it can easily be erroneous.

While arguing with Phaedrus, Socrates says the difference between the real and imaginary is almost impossible to see (Plato, 74). Thus, it is also difficult to see the difference between good and evil, justice and injustice. The main problem is that wise people know it, whereas fools are firmly convinced that reality and dream are quite distinguishable. Both, Plato and Shakespeare believe that a person prefers to live in the worlds of his dreams, deeming it the real one.

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Therefore, it is quite possible for us to arrive at the conclusion that both authors explore the concept of personal identity in the following ways, first, in the “Tempest,” Shakespeare shows that a person is often inclined to redefine oneself as Prospero does. In particular, this character finds a new kingdom for oneself or even invents it. In his turn, Plato analyzes the nature of knowledge, particularly its subjectivity. Apart from that, he believes that a person must never reject doubt while defining oneself, ability to doubt distinguishes a wise man from an ignorant one. Finally, in Plato’s view, a human should first get a correct image of prior to influencing views of other people. If we try to draw the parallels between these two works, we may say that both Shakespeare and Plato show that we often create illusion for ourselves and believe them to be the real world.


William Shakespeare, John Edward Friend, Northrop Frye. “The Tempest”. Plain Label Books, 1959.

Plato. Benjamin Jowett. “Phaedrus” Forgotten Books, 1975.

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