Discuss the exploration of conflict and its resolution in The Tempest.

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The main conflict in this play occurs within the psyche of the powerful Prospero, who is often said to be a representation of Shakespeare. It is the conflict between revenge and mercy.

Prospero and his daughter have been abandoned for many years on a largely deserted island, due to the treachery of Prospero's brother, Antonio, who has usurped the dukedom of Milan from him. Alonso, the King of Naples, colluded with Antonio on the overthrow. When a ship holding both Antonio and Alonso sails near the island, Prospero sees his chance for revenge.

He uses his command of magic to raise a storm that shipwrecks the crew on his island, where the sprite Ariel then uses magic to trick, confuse, and scare the shipwrecked passengers.

Just when Prospero is in a position to exact his final revenge, however, Ariel tells him in some distress that he feels their enemies have already suffered enough. They are frightened and disoriented. Ariel says he feels sorry for them.

Prospero is so impressed and humbled that an airy spirit who is not even human can feel such compassion that he, too, is moved to be merciful and forgiving. In the conflict between mercy and revenge, Prospero takes the humane and higher course and chooses mercy and forgiveness, even where, in the case of Antonio, there is no genuine sign of repentance for what has been done.

If the aging Shakespeare meant to express his own thoughts through Prospero in this final play, it is a touching tribute of forgiveness on the part of a great playwright who must have had much to feel wronged over in the rough and tumble world of theater.

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Prospero has to overcome his own desire for revenge if he's to achieve reconciliation and move on with his life. At first, this seems like a pretty tall order. As the play begins, Prospero uses his magic powers to whip up a gigantic storm—the tempest of the title—to bring the ship containing his enemies to his island domain.

Evidently, Prospero is still incredibly bitter about his being usurped as Duke of Milan and wants payback. And as it soon becomes clear that his brother Antonio, the man who replaced Prospero as Duke of Milan, has not the slightest hint of remorse over his treachery, then it's hardly surprising that Prospero should not be in a particularly forgiving mood.

But Miranda's loving relationship to Ferdinand points the way to some kind of resolution. Prospero realizes that, for the sake of his beloved daughter's happiness, he has to put his bitterness and hatred aside and move on. This means forgiving those who have wronged him, even if they haven't shown much in the way of remorse. It also means giving up his magic, which could be seen as a tacit acknowledgment that he was in some way responsible for his own deposition, in that he derogated from his duty as Duke of Milan by spending so much time with his books and spells.

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accessteacher eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Clearly the play contains many different and varying forms of conflict from the conflict between Prospero and Caliban and Ariel to the conflict between the island's more worldly incomers. However your question seems to point towards a more general theme of the text that concerns reconciliation. At the end of the play, Prospero seems reconciled to leaving the island and losing his magical powers. He is also reconciled to his brother, Antonio. Likewise, Caliban, that much abused personage in the play, seems to undergo some form of "repentance," accepting his position and place in the order of things of the island. As he leaves, he says, "I'll be wise hereafter, / And seek for grace," that suggests that he has learned from his experiences of being tricked by Stephano and Trinculo and will not be taken in so easily again.

However, due perhaps to the brevity of the play, there exists a certain amount of ambiguity in these apparently neat and tidy resolutions, and the audience is left with more questions than answers. How will Prospero cope with the loss of his magic and the power that this gave him? Will he find "normal" life satisfying with the loss of these privileges? Is Antonio really reconciled towards his brother or will he try to engineer his downfall yet again so he can be Duke of Milan once more? Perhaps key to all of these questions is: does the play illustrate any serious and permanent change of character? Considering these questions perhaps leaves us with more doubts than hopes about the resolution that is offered to us.

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