What is the role of the supernatural in William Shakespeare's The Tempest?

The role of the supernatural in William Shakespeare's The Tempest is to allow Prospero to enjoy the kind of power that was so suddenly taken away from him when he was usurped as Duke of Milan. With his magic powers, Prospero can exercise control over others, just as if he were back in Italy. Even more than that, he can control the very elements.

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Prospero's supernatural powers allow him to carve out his own little kingdom on a remote desert island. Undoubtedly traumatized by the experience of being usurped as the rightful Duke of Milan by his treacherous brother Antonio, he feels keenly the loss of power and yearns to exercise it once again....

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Prospero's supernatural powers allow him to carve out his own little kingdom on a remote desert island. Undoubtedly traumatized by the experience of being usurped as the rightful Duke of Milan by his treacherous brother Antonio, he feels keenly the loss of power and yearns to exercise it once again. Unable, of course, to do this back in Italy, he settles for the island which is now his own private kingdom. Here, with his large books of magic and free from the machinations of ambitious courtiers and family members, he can enjoy a greater degree of power than he could ever have enjoyed in the Duchy of Milan.

It's hardly a substitute for the power he lost, though, but it still allows the exiled noble to act like a noble, making things happen, giving orders, and generally throwing his weight about. The imperiousness with which Prospero treats Caliban is a prime illustration of the fact that you can take the Duke from the court but you'll never take the court from the Duke. Wherever he fetches up, Prospero will still look and act like a Duke.

To a considerable extent, this is because he has magic powers, which enable him to control those around him as well as the very elements. Though supernatural forces may not be a substitute for the ducal power he once exercised in Milan, they do at least give Prospero a fair measure of control over his life; and that's something he desperately needs after the appalling treatment meted out to him back in Italy.

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One function of the supernatural in Shakespeare's The Tempest is to highlight the power of one of the main characters, Prospero. Prospero uses his magic to create the storm that causes the ship to crash into the island, and then he uses his magic to strategically position the passengers across the island.

One interpretation of the character of Prospero is that he represents Shakespeare. Just as Prospero uses his magic to control the other characters, essentially playing the part of a puppet-master, so too Shakespeare, as a successful playwright, used his power, or 'magic' with words to control all of the characters in his stories. This was one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote alone, so when Prospero breaks his magic staff at the end of the play, this could represent Shakespeare putting down his pen, and coming to terms with the prospect of living without his own 'magical' powers.

Another interpretation of Prospero, and his magic powers, is that he represents British colonization, which was a big project during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and which remained so under King James, who was on the throne when this play was written. According to this interpretation, Prospero's magic powers represent the extent of the power that British colonizers exercised over the indigenous natives of the lands they colonized. Prospero uses his magic to take the island from its rightful owners, Sycorax and Caliban, and he also uses his magic to enslave Caliban. This is perhaps an echo of the ways in which British colonizers used their greater strength and resources to seize foreign lands and enslave the natives.

Another significant role of the supernatural in The Tempest is simply to give to the play an element of wonder and spectacle. Although staging options were limited in the early sixteenth century, The Tempest nonetheless lends itself, in large part because of its supernatural elements, to visual spectacle and imaginative set-pieces. It would have thus been an exciting play for audiences to watch.

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In The Tempest by William Shakespeare the supernatural plays a huge role. The whole play is about the supernatural and the effects it has on the people of the island. Prospero is thought to be this great magician, but in reality it is Ariel who makes the supernatural things happen. Ariel does this for Prospero with the promise that she will be set free. When Prospero learns that the ones responsible for his being on the island are close at hand, he tells Ariel to cause a great tempest so the men will be stuck on the island with him. 

Hast thou, Spirit,
Perform'd to point the tempest that I bade thee?

Ariel responds to question:

To every article.
I boarded the king's ship; now on the bleak,
Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin,
I flamed amazement: sometime I'ld divide,
And burn in many places, on the topmast,
The yards and bowspirit, would I flame distinctly,
Then meet and join. Jove's lightnings, the precusors
O' the dreadful thunder-claps, more momentary
And sight-outrunning were not; the fire and cracks
Of sulphurous roaring the most mighty Neptune
Seem to besiege and make his bold waves tremble,
Yea, his dead trident shake.

Prospero used the supernatural for his advantage to try to get revenge against the wrongs done to him and Miranda. The play is filled with elements of the supernatural.

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There are many supernatural elements in The Tempest by William Shakespeare. When Ariel false describes the drowning of the false Duke, he states:

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

The notion of the sea change refers not only to the idea of death by drowning, but also to a removal from the quotidian world of the mainland to the magical world of the island, in which justice and right relationships are restored by the power of magic.

Of the characters, Prospero is a human magician and Ariel and Caliban entirely supernatural beings. That the restoration of Prospero requires magic suggests that in our unmagical world it is improbable that the disempowered could achieve restitution, i.e. that a real Prospero would have died in the storm rather than regaining his dukedom.

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