Why does Prospero show mercy to his foes?

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Blaze Bergstrom eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In The Tempest, Prospero’s primary goals are to match his daughter, Miranda, with Alonso’s son, Ferdinand, and thereby to unite the dukedom of Milan with the kingdom of Napes, which Alonso rules. That is the reason he has diverted the ship carrying the Italians to wreck on his island. Fortunately Miranda and Ferdinand like each other right away and are soon “in either’s powers” and their love endures, which Prospero had feared it might not. If he did not forgive the betrayal, the union could not be accomplished; instead, there would probably be war.

Other than his brother, who betrayed him and usurped his dukedom, and the complicit Alonso, it is debatable who Prospero’s “foes” are. He has a tendency to take things over, and on the island he has used magic to make others his servants or even slaves. He attributes his antipathy toward Caliban is to attempted rape of Miranda. Caliban’s fate remains unresolved at the play’s end.

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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It's kind of hard to say, since if you were to line up Prospero's strengths on the right side of a scale and the weakness on the left, it would be akin to weighing a feather and a boulder.

Bad stuff: makes his daughter think she causes the storm that may have taken innocent lives, makes her question her paternity, ("She [Miranda's mother] said thou wast my daughter." I.2.57.). He's a big whiner, "Me, poor man, my library /was dukedom large enough." (I.2.109-110) and mean to Ariel.

Good stuff: Well, he kind of feels badly in the end.

The only reason for mercy would be the kind of forgiveness he hopes to receive.

Further Reading:

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nja1 | Student

I have been studying the tempest for a certain amount of time, and prospero shows mercy towards his foes because during the play he recieves a change of heart. He does have some help from his sprite Ariel who basically says "IF you saw them crying now, your heart woul soften" and then says "Mine would if I were human"

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