The Characters' Metamorphoses In Shakespeare’s Tempest Universe

4420 words - 18 pages

The Characters' Metamorphoses In Shakespeare’s Tempest-Universe

In the play The Tempest, Shakespeare provides a unique and alternate universe for his characters to function in on the magical island. In this universe there are both native characters: Prospero, Miranda, Ariel, and Caliban, who have lived on the island previously, and external world characters, namely: Alonso, Ferdinand, Antonio, Sebastian, Stephano, Trinculo, and Gonzalo, who have been forced upon the island. While the different characters' histories cross paths in the past, the clear and present division between the two groups' immediate situation represents the division in their differing kind of spiritual journey. That is, while the natives seek rejuvenation from isolation outward, the shipwrecked characters seek rejuvenation from the outside world inward, on an island of solitude. As David Bevington notes in the introduction to the Bantam edition of the text:

Shakespeare creates in The Tempest an idealized world of imagination, a place of magical rejuvenation like the forests of A Midsummer Night's Dream and As You Like It. Yet the journey is no escape from reality, for the island shows men what they are and what they ought to be. Even its location juxtaposes "real" world with idealized landscape: like Plato's New Atlantis or Thomas More's Utopia, Shakespeare's island is to be found both somewhere and nowhere. (xvii)

In this Tempest-universe Prospero rules as a kind of artist-king, creator, and magician. Invested with these qualities he represents the God-figure of the universe, effecting change in others, while consistently demonstrating God-like qualities in himself: the ability to perform miracles, grace, and forgiveness. Ultimately, it is Prospero, with the aid of Ariel, who conjures up the storm in the beginning of the play that begins the whole chain of events that are to unfold. However, as we will demonstrate later, even Prospero has to rely on fortune to some degree. While, certainly the idea of using a storm to isolate characters had been done before in drama, Ernest Marshal Howse points out that Shakespeare had very particular reasons for using the storm as the primary symbol in this play.

He [Shakespeare] used the storm because he knew the heart of man, and understood the immortal fascination which the storm exercises through the glamour of excitement and fear...He employs it to give the emotional atmosphere at the start, as though he used a flash of lightning to throw a vivid glimpse on a scene of horror. He makes the opening moments convey impressive intimation of puny man amid the terrors of natural existence. With deft suggestion he manage to let us see the little ship tossed by tumultuous waves, hear the roar of the thunder, and feel the fury of overpowering gales. He touches the raging elements with augury of tempestuous evil about to break upon us; and perchance even with suggestion of the little ships of our...

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