Prospero’s use of “white magic” is certainly present in the play. How does The Tempest make use of magic?

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jjohnson112's profile pic

jjohnson112 | Elementary School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

Posted on

k9beck25, you stated you "need some help understanding this question...."  It does not appear that you want the question answered, only help understanding the question.

Your question involves magic.  The first part of the question establishes the fact that "white magic" is present in the play.  However, not all of the magic Prospero uses is "white."  There are many instances of both "white" (magic used for good) and "black" (magic used for evil) magic.  

I would suggest going back through the play and look for as many instances of magic as you can find.  For example, what magic does Ariel perform?  What magic does Prospero perform?  What magic does Sycorax perform?

Then, ask yourself the question, "What function does this magic serve?"  Meaning, what does the magic do?  What is the point of the magic?  

One example would be at the beginning of the play.  Prospero has commanded Ariel to use his magic to create a violent storm.  The magic serves to bring certain characters to the island so that Prospero can get revenge.  

I hope this helps you understand the question.

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

When we think of the use of magic in this excellent play we need to recall that magic was something that was taken seriously by people in the time of Shakespeare. Remember that even as late as the reign of James I, witches were still being burnt at the stake.

One question that is worth considering is how magic is used in the play. It seems doubtful whether there is a "good" use of magic - consider the way that magic seems always used to manipulate, imprison or influence other people. Another point to remember is that this play is completely unlike other Shakespeare plays because it is dependent almost entirely upon the use of magic - in other plays with a supernatural element, the characters still have free will. In The Tempest, the fate of all characters are decided by supernatural intervention rather than by characters or actions.

Of course, another point to focus on is that the island itself seems to be strongly enchanted. It was here the Sycorax was banished; the island is the home to Ariel and other spirits; and let us not forget that Prospero's magical talent only begins when he is exiled to the island and his powers leave him as he leaves. The enchanted nature of the island is made clear by Caliban in a speech that shows his wonder at what happens on the island:

...the isle is full of noises,

Sounds and sweet airs, that give delight, and hurt not.

Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments

Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,

That if I then had wak'd after long sleep,

Will make me sleep again...

Magic is therefore an incredibly important part of the setting of this play, focussing on the location of the island. Likewise magic is rarely used benignly and it also is an instrument that deprives the characters of free will. Hope this helps!

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