The use of magic certainly is a central theme in The Tempest. We especially see the theme of magic portrayed through both Prospero's ability to use magic as well as Ariel's, a spirit and a slave of Prospero's. Specifically, we see magic being used from the very beginning of the story. When those who were responsible for usurping Prospero as the rightful Duke of Milan set sail, we learn that, at Prospero's command, Ariel conjures up a storm, inciting all of Prospero's enemies to jump ship and swim ashore to Prospero's island. Those who were responsible for Prospero's usurpation and on the boat at sea were Prospero's brother Antonio, Alonso who is the King of Naples, the King of Naple's brother Sebastian, as well as the king's son Ferdinand and the king's counselor Ganzolo who actually took pity on Prospero and helped him and his daughter survive.
Once lured to the island, both Ariel and Prospero continue to use magic to play several tricks on them king and his party. These tricks successfully reveal both Prospero's brother Antonio and the king's brother Sebastian as plotting to murder the king. Ariel also successfully uses magic to scare the whole royal party enough to believe that the only way they'll be able to escape the island and return to Naples is if they repent of their treacherous deed of usurping Prospero. Finally, Prospero even uses magic to hold Antonio, King Alonso, and Sebastian in captivity and drive them to a state of madness. Once released from the magic and their state of madness, they repent for their treacherous deed of usurping Prospero. The king especially feels so repentant that he returns the dukedom back to Prospero, helping to create the play's happy ending.
What's especially interesting is that, while magic is used to create fear and madness, it is not used to create feelings of repentance. The feelings of repentance that Prospero incites using magic are genuine, as we see in King Alonso's lines:
This must crave,
An if this be at all--a most strange story.
Thy dukedom I resign, and do entreat
Thou pardon me my wrongs. (V.i.126-29)
It is in the sense that magic can incite repentance and lead to redemption that magic in the play becomes likened to the divine, while Prospero becomes likened to a god-like figure. What's more, the fact that the king and his party become repentant once released from magic, rather than having to be enchanted into being repentant, shows that the message of the play assumes the goodness of human nature. Hence, one thing we can learn through the theme of magic is that Shakespeare uses magic to portray both the divine-like qualities of mankind as well as to portray the connection between man and the divine. Therefore, an essay exploring the theme of magic in The Tempest can explore how Shakespeare uses magic to illustrate the qualities of human nature, and a possible thesis could be:
- Shakespeare uses magic to portray both the divine-like qualities of mankind as well as to portray the connection between man and the divine.