The Tempest Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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Describe the relationship between Prospero and Ariel in The Tempest.

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Felicita Burton eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Prospero, when stranded long ago on an island with his toddler daughter, encountered several beings that already lived there. The two part-human, part-supernatural beings were Ariel and Caliban; the genders of both beings are open to interpretation (though Ariel is referred to using he/him pronouns twice in the play). Prospero acts as a colonial ruler and seems to consider himself a benevolent patriarch. He finds it important to dominate and manipulate everyone, by his wits when possible and by magic otherwise.

The exact hold that Prospero has over Ariel, while not precisely stated, is presumably at least part magic. Ariel rarely resists outright but tries to placate Prospero. Again, the exact reasons for Ariel’s deferential behavior are not spelled out. It seems that Ariel accepts being bound in a servile relationship to the master Prospero, one that was imposed when Prospero freed the sprite from being trapped in a tree trunk. It is also likely that Prospero’s magic may be strong enough to prevent any truly independent actions. While Ariel has some supernatural powers, especially over the elements (as shown by conjuring a storm), their relative strength compared to Prospero’s powers remains debatable. Ariel can change shape, becoming fire during the storm and assuming the shape of a harpy—things we never hear of Prospero doing. As it was Caliban’s mother who previously bewitched Ariel into the tree, Ariel may need Prospero’s protection against Caliban, who is also in servitude to the magician.

Prospero, living in exile, is strongly focused on getting his daughter, Miranda, into a position of authority over his former lands, which he intends to accomplish by marrying her off to Alonso, the son of the King of Naples. To carry out this plan (of which he keeps her in the dark), he needs the assistance of other island dwellers. Although he did not know of Ariel’s powers when he freed him from Sycorax’s magic, he has learned something of the sprite’s abilities and, before the play’s action began, had employed Ariel’s power to create the storm that shipwrecked Ferdinand and Alonso. The question of who is serving whom, as Prospero is dependent on Ariel to make his plot work, arise constantly. From act I, scene 2, when Ariel reminds Prospero of his promise, Shakespeare seems to suggest that Ariel is more honest and honorable than his human master.

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jjohnson112 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In "The Tempest," the relationship between Prospero and Ariel is one of master and servant.  Prospero is the master and Ariel is the servant.  In Act 1, Scene 2, Prospero calls to Ariel, "Come away, servant, come."  Then Ariel greets Prospero by saying, "All hail, great master!"

Despite the fact that their conversation is friendly, it appears that Ariel wants his freedom.  Later in the same scene Ariel feels he must remind Prospero of his promises, "Let me remember thee what thou hast promised... my liberty."  Prospero is offended at Ariel's reminders and decides that Ariel also needs some reminding.  Prospero goes into a lengthy discussion, reminding Ariel how how he was saved from imprisonment.  He finishes by threatening Ariel, 

If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak

And peg thee in his knotty entrails till

Thou has howled away twelve winters.

Ariel remembers his place as Prospero's servant and answers, "Pardon, master."

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Kitty Sharp eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The relationship between Prospero and Ariel is one similar to master and slave.  When Prospero arrived on the island, Ariel had been imprisoned in a tree by the witch Sycorax who ruled the island.  Apparently, Prospero somehow defeated the witch and was able to free Ariel from the tree.  Prospero then claimed that Ariel owed him a debt of service for freeing him from his imprisonment.  Ariel agrees to do magic for Prospero, and it seems as if there had been a set length of time for Ariel's service.  During the play, Ariel tells Prospero that he always promises to set him free, yet he never lives up to the promise.  Prospero tells Ariel that he will set him free after he performs one last act of magic.  It is only after Prospero creates the magic circle and restores order among himself and Alonso and the other men that he sets Ariel free.

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