What is the role of the supernatural in William Shakespeare's The Tempest?

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mlsldy3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Tempest by William Shakespeare the supernatural plays a huge role. The whole play is about the supernatural and the effects it has on the people of the island. Prospero is thought to be this great magician, but in reality it is Ariel who makes the supernatural things happen. Ariel does this for Prospero with the promise that she will be set free. When Prospero learns that the ones responsible for his being on the island are close at hand, he tells Ariel to cause a great tempest so the men will be stuck on the island with him. 

Hast thou, Spirit,
Perform'd to point the tempest that I bade thee?

Ariel responds to question:

To every article.
I boarded the king's ship; now on the bleak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement: sometime I'ld divide,
And burn in many places, on the topmast,
The yards and bowspirit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the precusors
O' the dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not; the fire and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble,
Yea, his dead trident shake.

Prospero used the supernatural for his advantage to try to get revenge against the wrongs done to him and Miranda. The play is filled with elements of the supernatural.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many supernatural elements in The Tempest by William Shakespeare. When Ariel false describes the drowning of the false Duke, he states:

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

The notion of the sea change refers not only to the idea of death by drowning, but also to a removal from the quotidian world of the mainland to the magical world of the island, in which justice and right relationships are restored by the power of magic.

Of the characters, Prospero is a human magician and Ariel and Caliban entirely supernatural beings. That the restoration of Prospero requires magic suggests that in our unmagical world it is improbable that the disempowered could achieve restitution, i.e. that a real Prospero would have died in the storm rather than regaining his dukedom.

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The Tempest

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