What is the significance of the chess game in The Tempest?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The game of chess occurs towards the end of this excellent play in Act V scene i, during a conversation between Prospero and Alonso, who believes his son, Ferdinand, is dead. In what is reminiscent of yet another masque scene in this play, Prospero therefore reveals a scene of Miranda and Ferdinand playing chess. There are a number of noteworthy elements that we could mention about this, but let us focus on what Miranda says to her lover, Ferdinand:

Yes, for a score of kingdoms you should wrange,

And I would call it fair play.

We can link this quote and the chess game into a number of different themes that are raised in the novel. First and foremost, it is the result of a political "wrangle" that left Prospero and Miranda on the island, as his brother took power and exiled him. Yet, at the same time, the motif of a chess game says a lot about the character of Prospero and how he has treated all of the characters like chess pieces, controlling and manipulating them throughout the play, moving them into different parts of the island according to his will.

Therefore the game of chess highlights the role of Prospero and makes us ask how we consider and view his involvement in the play. Is he an unforgivable, manipulative tyrant, or is he more of a benign stage manager?