What is the theme of William Shakespeare's The Tempest?

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The Tempest, like any complex work of art, has more than one theme. One of its major themes, however, is redemption—particularly redemption through suffering and learning.

The play is difficult to classify, being variously labelled a comedy, a romance, and a "problem play." Another way of looking at it,...

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The Tempest, like any complex work of art, has more than one theme. One of its major themes, however, is redemption—particularly redemption through suffering and learning.

The play is difficult to classify, being variously labelled a comedy, a romance, and a "problem play." Another way of looking at it, however, would be as an "after-tragedy." Prospero's story before the play begins satisfies all the requirements of a tragedy listed by Aristotle in the Poetics: a great man falls from a high estate through a tragic flaw. He initially shows arrogance but gains knowledge of himself and the world.

Prospero's fall from the Dukedom of Milan happened before the beginning of the play. His process of gaining self-knowledge is ongoing. As the play progresses, he becomes less irascible and manipulative, to the point where he is ready to leave his exile on the island and become a great man in the world again—though he does not expect to rule long in Milan where, he says, "Every third thought shall be my grave."

The humility and resignation of Prospero at the end of the play, and his interest in Miranda and Ferdinand for their own sake rather than as pawns in his political game, are a start contrast to his bitterness when the play begins. His last act is to set Ariel free before entrusting himself to the good graces of the audience to bring him safely home in the epilogue.

Unlike most tragic heroes, Prospero is given another chance to learn humility after being punished for his pride. On the island, he learns a type of wisdom that eluded him in his library in Milan, and is redeemed.

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One of the most important themes of The Tempest is that of mercy over vengeance.

Prospero has waited many years to get revenge on his brother Antonio. Not only did Antonio rob him of his kingdom, he also set Prospero and his young daughter, Miranda, out to sea on a leaky vessel, hoping they would perish. Prospero, who now has Antonio and his party in his power, imprisoned in a grove of trees on his island, has every justification to make them suffer.

However, when Ariel comes back and speaks of the prisoners with compassion, saying he feels sorry for them, Prospero is deeply moved and says that if a mere sprite ("but air") can feel compassion for humans, he, a fellow human, should be able to feel the same or more:

Hast thou, which art but air, a touch, a feeling
Of their afflictions, and shall not myself,
One of their kind...be kindlier moved than thou art?
Prospero has the humility to be able to learn from his slave, a mere spirit, and to grow into a deeper humanity. He says that his reason is more noble than his anger and that it will win the day:
Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th' quick,
Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury
Do I take part.
He adds that
The rarer action is
In virtue than in vengeance.
Although it is not clear that Antonio is ever fully repentant, Prospero chooses the higher path. In his final play, Shakespeare has the final word on the power of forgiveness through Prospero, a character often believed to be modeled on Shakespeare himself.

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One of the main themes in "The Tempest" is the consequences of the uses and abuses of power. Prospero has accumulated and lost a great deal of power in his life. For this reason, and because his brother is also power-hungry, Prospero and his daughter Miranda have been banished to an island. Prospero's only remaining power is controlling the weather and the other inhabitants of the island: his daughter, his faery servant Ariel, and the monstrous Caliban. As the play progresses, Shakespeare depicts Prospero as increasingly weary of using his powers; he wants now only to make certain that his daughter has a future. He contrives a shipwreck and stages a meeting between Miranda and a suitable husband. After all turns out the way he planned, he yields his power to the future and returns home.

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