Discuss the theme of freedom and forgiveness in The Tempest.

Prospero links the themes of freedom and forgiveness in The Tempest in his progress from enslaving the island's native spirits and manipulating all the other characters to setting Ariel free and forgiving his brother at the end of the play. Finally, he asks the audience to perform the same favors for him.

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The themes of freedom and forgiveness are linked in The Tempest primarily by Prospero. It is his brother's treachery, which he has not forgiven, that leads Prospero to colonize the island and enslave its native sprits, Ariel and Caliban. Indeed, Prospero begins the play by exercising such a degree of control over all the other characters that no one else is free, even if they think they are. He manipulates Miranda and Ferdinand into a marriage which he sees primarily as a political alliance to help him regain his dukedom.

The play ends with Prospero setting Ariel free. Although he does not specifically do the same for Caliban, there is an implication that Prospero's absence from the island will also give him his freedom. He then says that he has pardoned his brother Antonio for usurping his place and ends by asking the audience to give him his freedom:

Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Although the epilogue has a whimsical quality and the primary purpose of seeking applause, there is some truth in the notion that freeing the spirits he once "enforced" has left Prospero less free himself. The parallel he draws between himself and the audience in the final couplet is the closest he is ever likely to come to confessing that he himself is in need of forgiveness. Even if he does not overtly admit to any crimes, however, the final lines make the connection between freedom and forgiveness explicit.

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Neither Ariel nor Caliban are free as the play opens, though both long for freedom. At the play's end, Prospero frees Ariel for all his good services. Finally, at the end of the play, Prospero also, in a burst of generosity, forgives Caliban.

Prospero, though initially bent on revenge against the men who stole his kingdom and set he and Miranda adrift on a leaky vessel to die, practices forgiveness at the end of the play. In this he is inspired by Ariel, who feels compassion for Prospero's suffering enemies. Prospero is moved by Ariel's empathy:

Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind, that relish all as sharply
Passion as they, be kindlier moved than thou art?

As Prospero says, if a spirit, which is merely air, can be touched by the suffering of humans, how can he, himself a human, not be as kind or kinder? Forgiveness, then, works by example: as we show compassion and forgiveness, we encourage these qualities in others.

Prospero forgives even though some of the forgiven are unrepentant and don't deserve his mercy. Shakespeare is saying that the act of forgiveness is more important to the forgiver than to those forgiven. In forgiving his enemies, rather than crushing them when he has them in his power, Prospero finally achieves the peace that had eluded him for many years. Forgiveness heals him.

Given that the question is about forgiveness and freedom, it is natural to ponder the link between the two. Forgiveness, Shakespeare, seems to be arguing, brings freedom. We as an audience also feel a sense of lightness and are lifted at this generous ending. We too feel freed from the oppressive need for revenge. Forgiveness and freeing others feels good. If, as many critics contend, Prospero is Shakespeare saying goodbye to the stage, perhaps Shakespeare too achieved a sense of freedom in forgiving enemies he could have destroyed.

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Freedom and forgiveness are both important themes in the play. The theme of freedom is best exemplified through the characters of Ariel and Caliban. Both characters are essentially enslaved by Prospero. Prospero uses Caliban to learn the island, then turns him into a slave when Caliban tries to rape Miranda. Propsero says,

Thou most lying slave,

Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,

Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee

In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate

The honour of my child (Act I, Scene 1).

Prospero releases Ariel from his captivity in the tree, but also forces him to serve. When Ariel mentions his freedom, Prospero says, “If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak/ And peg thee in his knotty entrails till/ Thou hast howl'd away twelve winters” (Act I, Scene 2). Prospero enslaves Caliban by torture and Ariel by threats.

Forgiveness is also an important theme in the play. Although his original intention was revenge, at the end of the play, Prospero forgives his brother for the suffering he has endured. Prospero says,

For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother

Would even infect my mouth, I do forgive

Thy rankest fault; all of them; and require

My dukedom of thee, which perforce, I know,

Thou must restore (Act V, Scene 1).

Once he forgives everyone, Prospero realizes he should also forgive Caliban. When he says, "this thing of darkness!/ Acknowledge mine“ (Act V, Scene 1), he is admitting that Caliban belongs to him, and he forgives him for trying to rape Miranda. Prospero also realizes it is time to free Ariel. "My Ariel, chick,/ That is thy charge: then to the elements/ Be free, and fare thou well" (Act V, Scene 1). The play also ends with Prospero asking forgiveness of the audience: “As you from crimes would pardon'd be,/ Let your indulgence set me free” (Act V, Scene 1).

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