In William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, the presentation of Prospero in his roles as father, ruler, and magician have been hotly debated by critics. Some analysts have seen Prospero as a worthy role model in practically all of these roles, while others have condemned him harshly or have at least seen him as exhibiting very serious flaws.
- PROSPERO AS FATHER: Some critics have seen Prospero as a kind, affectionate father who loves his daughter, protects her from the lustful Caliban, guides her emergence into maturity, and supervises her developing relationship with a worthy mate. Other critics, however, see Prospero as overbearing, impatient, and manipulative toward his daughter. They argue that many of these unattractive traits are fully on display in first scene in which the father and daught appear together.
- PROSPERO AS RULER: Some critics believe that Prospero is a wise and prudent ruler of his small island domain. They argue that he becomes more humble, more magnanimous, and less vengeful as the play proceeds. They note that he seems to be loved and respected by his virtuous daughter – a fact that suggests his own virtue both as a father and as a ruler. These critics believe that Prospero’s treatment of Caliban is well justified, especially in view of Caliban’s attempted rape of Miranda. They also believe that Prospero’s ultimate treatment of Ariel shows his compassion, generosity, and wisdom. Many other analysts, however, consider Prospero’s treatment of Caliban abusive in the extreme. They see Prospero as a cruel and petty tyrant who blatantly mistreats Caliban and whose treatment of Ariel is also very troubling. For these critics, Prospero is the epitome of the evils of colonialism.
- PROSPERO AS MAGICIAN: Responses to Prospero as magician have also been highly divergent. Some critics believe that his “white magic” link him with virtue and godliness. They associate his magic with reason, logic, and the poetic imagination, which all bring order out of chaos. They see him almost as a self-portrait by Shakespeare; his magic is the equivalent of Shakespeare's art. Conversely, other critics see Prospero’s magic as further evidence of his sinister hunger for power. Some critics think that Prospero’s magic in fact is weak and limited and argue that his dependence on magic robs him of his humanity. Instead of seeing Prospero as Shakespeare’s alter-ego, these interpreters see him as the object of Shakespeare’s biting satire. They sympathize with Caliban’s assessment of Prospero as
“a tyrant, a sorcerer that by his cunning hath cheated me of the island."