The Tempest Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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How does Prospero use power and manipulation in The Tempest?

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In The Tempest, Prospero’s power is primarily based in the intertwined realms of magic and knowledge. He does not hesitate to use his magic to achieve his own ends and, in doing so, inflicts physical and emotional damage. While, Prospero often uses his magic directly, he also applies it to others, coercing them to act as intermediaries to influence things to proceed the way the magician wants them to go. His damage is not limited to people but also involves other people’s property.

William Shakespeare begins the play with a shipwreck, which we later learn was caused by Ariel, a sprite (a magical, part-human creature) whose powers are not as strong as Prospero’s are. Ariel creates the storm that causes the ship to run aground, thereby forcing its crew and passengers onto the island where Prospero and Miranda live. Although Prospero’s plan is only to manipulate three of the passengers, he has an entire ship and its cargo destroyed and risks the lives of everyone aboard.

Because his magic is stronger than that of Ariel of Caliban, another part-human creature who lives on the island, Prospero has been able to make them his serfs or slaves. He uses the hope of liberty as a weapon to manipulate them to do his bidding. He primarily cares about regaining control of his lost dukedom, which he plots to do through his unsuspecting, innocent adolescent daughter. In Shakespeare’s telling, Miranda and Ferdinand, the young man her father wanted her to marry, fall in love all by themselves—although Ferdinand’s presence on the island is due entirely to the magically caused wreck.

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