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The Tempest Analysis

The Tempest is among Shakespeare's later plays. In it, Shakespeare returns to many of the old themes which recur throughout his dramatic work: themes of love mixed with themes of betrayal. At the same time, The Tempest shows Shakespeare's maturity in the ways in which, through the character of Prospero, the playwright seems to present a reflection on storytelling itself.

The character of Prospero looms over the entire narrative, driving it forward, and serves almost as a dramatic representation of Shakespeare himself. This is one of the most popular theories as far as The Tempest is concerned—Prospero is considered to be a semi-autobiographical character who provides a particularly enlightening lens through which to view the play and its actions.

The Tempest is a tale that, in many respects, takes place after critical events in the story have already happened: it deals, in large part, with the repercussions and resolution of an event which took place long before the narrative of the play. Antonio's betrayal, Prospero and Miranda's arrival on the island, and the friendship between Prospero and Caliban (as well as the resulting dissolution of that friendship after Caliban attempts to rape Miranda) are all critical events within the story that unfolded long before the play even begins.

Even so, the story largely concerns the continuing repercussions these events—via Prospero's attempts to reclaim his former station and Caliban's attempts to overthrow Prospero. Additionally, we see echoes of these past events; for example, Antonio (who had already overthrown Prospero) conspires with Sebastian to betray Alonso in order to usurp him as king of Naples. Here, we see the theme of betrayal in the past and in the present: Caliban's betrayal of Prospero and his daughter, as well as his subsequent attempt to overthrow Prospero; the usurpation of the duke of Milan; and the attempted murder of the king of Naples.

Finally, as noted above, Prospero looms large throughout the play, and it is interesting to consider how much his use of magic tends to resemble a kind of creative showmanship. Particularly notable is the way in which he makes a "character" of himself to further advance his designs.

After Miranda and Ferdinand fall in love, Prospero treats their love as the plot of a drama. It's not enough that they are in love—he must turn Ferdinand's pursuit of his daughter into a dramatic quest, while casting himself as the antagonist within that quest. It's all performative, and his magic tends to work similarly: he uses spirits and illusions in order to manipulate events and individuals to fulfill his designs. Within the world of The Tempest, Prospero does appear to be an author of sorts.

Historical Background

Most of Shakespeare’s comedies, histories, and tragedies were written during England’s “golden age” under the celebrated 45-year reign (1558-1603) of Queen Elizabeth I. Historically, the Elizabethan era took place in the wake of the Protestant Reformation when the English Renaissance was ushered in and the arts flourished. When King James I succeeded Elizabeth to the throne after her death in 1603, he continued, at least to some extent, the rich cultural legacy left by the late queen. The new king, a patron of the arts, agreed to sponsor the King’s Men, Shakespeare’s theatrical group.

By 1608, after an illustrious career as a playwright, Shakespeare turned away from the great tragedies (Hamlet, Othello, and King Lear) and directed his creative energies toward the romances or tragi-comedies (The Tempest, Pericles, Cymbeline, and The Winter’s Tale).

The romances involve improbable and fanciful events that border on imagination rather than fact. Prospero’s magic is typical of the genre. Characters are often drawn in opposing categories of black and white and include the idealized heroine. In The Tempest , for example, Miranda is portrayed as the pure image of chastity. Love in the romances is characteristically subjected to great difficulty. Miranda stands by...

(The entire section is 2,863 words.)