In what ways does Prospero's character undergo development and moral transformation in The Tempest?

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At the beginning of The Tempest , Prospero is often harsh and tyrannical in his behavior to Caliban and Ariel, whom he treats as little better than slaves (at the same time querulously demanding gratitude from Ariel for his freedom). He is overbearing to Miranda and is inclined to brood...

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At the beginning of The Tempest, Prospero is often harsh and tyrannical in his behavior to Caliban and Ariel, whom he treats as little better than slaves (at the same time querulously demanding gratitude from Ariel for his freedom). He is overbearing to Miranda and is inclined to brood upon the wrongs that others have inflicted on him.

One might argue that Prospero has simply mellowed at the end of the play through the fruition of his plans, the betrothal of Ferdinand and Miranda, and the chance to regain his dukedom in Milan. However, this might merely have made him harshly triumphant and still more controlling if he had made no moral progress during the play.

In fact, he stops trying to manipulate the other characters in a remarkable abnegation of power which coincides with his becoming reconciled to his own death ("Every third thought shall be my grave" he tells Alonso). He gives up his control over Miranda, and his last act in the play is to free Ariel. In the epilogue, he gives up control even over himself and entrusts his fate to the goodwill of the audience, having learned to accept his fate with humility and grace.

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By the end of the play Prospero is definitely changed. At the start of The Tempest, Prospero is a bitter man, and understandably so. Having been unceremoniously deposed as Duke of Milan, he wants nothing more than to gain revenge on those responsible for stealing his throne and sending him off into exile. Prospero may no longer enjoy worldly power, but he uses his magic powers as a substitute, manipulating the forces of nature as well as his servants Ariel and Caliban. For much of the play Prospero is very much a control freak; everything has to be just the way he wants it in this little kingdom he's created on his remote desert island. Again, this is a response to the loss of control he experienced after being deposed as Duke of Milan.

But as the action draws to a close, Prospero is a changed man. The forthcoming marriage of his daughter Miranda to Ferdinand has made him realize that there are more important things in life than magic. Miranda's marriage will inevitably mean a certain loss of control on her father's part. Under the circumstances, it would therefore be inappropriate for Prospero to maintain his controlling attitude to those around him, including Miranda. Prospero needs to let go if he's to move on with his life.

Prospero also learns the value of forgiveness. At long last, he's able to forgive his brother Antonio for his appalling betrayal. In doing so, he's breaking the hold that vengeance has had upon his soul. As Prospero no longer needs to be in control, he no longer needs to be controlled by bitterness, hatred, and revenge. So he has no further need of his magic.

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At the beginning of the play, the audience's reactions to Prospero are rather ambivalent, to say the least. He is verbally abusive towards Ariel when his authority is challenged, and threatens him with torture that seems to present him almost as a dictator who will not stand to have his authority questioned in any way. Note what he threatens to do to Ariel:

If thou more murmur'st, I will rend an oak,

And peg thee in his knotty entrails till

Thou hast howled away twelve winters.

This punishment seems to be even worse than the punishment Ariel suffered under Sycorax, who had control of Ariel before Prospero's arrival. However, by the end of the play, Prospero is willing to free Ariel and give up his magic in order to return to the world of men and take up his position as the Duke of Milan. He sets everything back on its course and makes everything alright once again. In the play, he shows himself as a man who uses his power to have total control over what happens on the island. By the end of the play, he is willing to announce that power in order to return to civilisation and to give his daughter a future. This points towards at least some level of moral transformation within his character.

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