Shakespeare is one of the greatest artists the human race has ever produced. In the Tempest, he decides to determine which is more powerful – art or nature? He symbolizes art through civilization and nature through man and his natural place on Earth. Through the plot, Shakespeare reveals his own beliefs concerning which force is greater. The Tempest shows the respectable differences between art and nature, but eventually concedes that art is weaker and must bend itself to nature.
In The Tempest, Shakespeare’s Prospero has gotten himself into trouble by entertaining an insatiable thirst for knowledge. Prospero’s downfall was brought about because he valued knowledge and art over pure power. Through Prospero, Shakespeare questions the validity of man’s quest for art and beauty. However, the question is resolved in the end of the play when Prospero once again becomes a Duke, doing so through art. In this, Shakespeare shows that art is in fact useful. In the beginning, art is questioned, but in the end it proves to be Prospero’s most powerful saving grace, all the while ultimately bowing to nature.
Shakespeare presents the influences of both nature and art throughout the play, ultimately with nature prevailing. The tempest he creates in the first act, the anchor that sets into motion the events of the play, is wholly dependent on nature's own capacities. Ariel stirs up the winds and sea to frighten the crew and passengers. "The fire and Cracks/Of sulfurous roaring the most mighty Neptune/Seem to besiege, and make his bold waves tremble;/Yea, his dread trident shake" (Tempest, 48). This act causes the boat to stray off its course and allow Prospero to pursue his goals. By beginning the play with an act of nature, Shakespeare makes a subtle affirmation of the strength of nature. Furthermore, Prospero's dependency upon Ariel to execute his artful commands demonstrates that art's will is dependent upon nature's execution. Ariel represents the "fluid elements of water and air and also those bodiless energies of nature that strike us as 'spiritual'" (Intro to Tempest, xxv). Although Prospero is the mastermind of the events, without Ariel his wishes cannot be actualized. Thus Ariel is also a force of nature upon which art is dependent.
Nature is also represented in The Tempest through the character of Caliban. Caliban is a unique creation, one upon which nurture is lost. Caliban is a savage being, incapable of reason or any of the developed and refined characteristics which art represents. He is in essence the polar opposite of the refined Prospero. Caliban's name itself may be an anagram for cannibal, a term used commonly for the savage population of the New World. It is clear that Caliban has no sense of virtue, not only because he is not completely human due to the union that brought about his existence, but also because he has not been affected by art. A closer examination shows Shakespeare...