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Social Order Essay

1824 words - 7 pages

William Shakespeare, in his play The Tempest, uses social order, with particular reference to 17th century gender stereotypes to explain the nature of the main character, Prospero. Prospero is master of the three other main characters, with whom he shares very different relationships. Miranda, his daughter, represents the stereotypical "submissive female" of Elizabethan times who didn't resist; she accedes to everything Prospero says. As a result, Prospero exerts a sort of passive control in relation to Miranda, easily exercising power over her. Caliban, on the other hand, represents the complete opposite of Miranda, fitting an unbridled male role that represents deviation from power. Because of Caliban's digression, Prospero commands him with sheer anger and contempt, an aggressive form of control. Fitting between the roles of Caliban and Miranda is Ariel, Prospero's servant. Ariel, a spirit who is never assigned a gender, represents the middle ground between male and female and is thus treated by Prospero with a mixture of aggressiveness and passiveness. This assertive control results in a paternalistic relationship between Prospero and Ariel. Despite these differing relationships, Prospero utilizes each and every character to reach his ultimate goal: the advancement of his political position in Milan.

There is one common aspect to all of Prospero's relationships in the play: he exploits every character, despite his attempts to hide this fact. For example, Prospero utilizes Caliban as a slave, making him cut wood:

"Hag-seed, hence! Fetch us in fuel, and be quick, thou'rt best, to answer other business--shurug'st thou, malice? If thou neglect'st, or dost unwillingly what I command, I'll rack thee with old cramps, fill all thy bones with achNs, make thee roar, that beasts shall tremble at thy din" (1.365-9).

Likewise, Prospero, even in casual conversation, commands his own daughter Miranda to obey him: "The hours now come; the very minute bids thee ope thine ear. Obey, and be attentive" (1.2.37-9). As further proof of Prospero's commanding nature, Prospero commands Ariel to do his bidding: "The trumpery in my house, go bring it hither, for stale to catch these thieves" (4.1.183-6). Not only is all this authoritativeness inherent in Prospero's character, but his imposing style is also fueled by his desire to regain his dukedom in Milan, which he has lost because of the betrayal of close kin. The final epilogue, narrated solely by Prospero, further proves his self-motivated, domineering agenda:

"Now my charms are all o'erthrown, and what strength I have's mine own, which is most faint. Now `tis true I must be here confined by you, or sent to Naples. Let me not, since I have my dukedom got" (5.1.319-24).

Prospero has used his magic to further his political agenda and now that he is the Duke of Milan, he has no use for his charms. He recognizes that without magic, his power is "most faint," but in his eyes, that is a small price to...

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