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Shakespeare’s Powerful Use Of Characterization In The Tempest

2540 words - 10 pages

Shakespeare’s Powerful use of Characterization in The Tempest

In The Tempest, Shakespeare investigates the process of creativity as well as the idea that knowledge is equivalent to power. The Bard draws on both Christian and Aristotelian philosophy to support the premise that morality and creativity are made possible only through the acquisition of knowledge. The characters of Prospero, Ariel, Caliban, and Miranda each represent a different factor in the creative process: knowledge, creativity, medium, and final product, art. Yet they represent something else, as well: the deep divide between the social classes. The same imagery used to illustrate the creative process is used to support the European class system and the subjugation of the native peoples of the new world.

Prospero as Knowledge

Prospero symbolizes the first step in the creative process. He is knowledge, thought, and idea (Neilson 105). It was his idea to bring about the storm that would bring the ship to the island, facilitating the reconciliation between himself, his brother, and the king. Through his scheming, Miranda and Ferdinand met and became betrothed. Yet his ideas could not be put into effect without the help of Ariel (103). Ariel was freed by Prospero, and became his instrument. Neilson writes, "Prospero thinks-plans, but cannot practice. He needs a working agent to carry out his schemes" (105). Caliban, Prospero's wayward servant, warns the co-conspirators in his plot to kill Prospero, "Remember/First to possess his books, for without them/He's but a sot as I am, nor hath not/One spirit to command" (3.2.86-89). Without the knowledge he has gained from his books, Prospero would have no more power than Caliban.

Prospero is a magician, yet he does not have the stigma of evil attached to him as would be attached to a witch (James 61). The magician was a learned man of "true curiosity," more of a modern-day scientist than a heretic (61). This concept of the magician resulted from the synchretism of Neo-Platonic thought with Christian belief (60). The magician lived in a universe comprised of "three worlds, the elemental, the celestial, and the intellectual[]and the magus is he who seeks to ascend up through all three worlds to the Creator whose divine power he will secure" (61). Although this view would be somewhat objectionable to King James and many Christians of the time, Prospero's presence in the play as a heroic figure would be acceptable because of his good intentions (61).

Prospero may not be a magician at all (James 62). This may only be an assumption made by the reader or viewer (64). Prospero speaks of "my Art," but he carries out no magic himself (62). In fact, the books that Caliban believes supply this power are of the 'liberal arts', and not about magic at all (62). Because Caliban did not understand and could not explain how Prospero did what he did, Prospero's abilities would seem like magic. Allowing for this interpretation would help to...

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