How is the concept of real versus unreal represented in The Tempest?

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An illusion manipulates the senses. Through creating illusions, a person can attempt to manipulate another person's perceptions of the world around them by seemingly altering elements of reality.

A deception manipulates facts or truths, or what a person believes to be facts or truths. Through deceptions, a person attempts to manipulate another person's beliefs and change their behavior.

There are many deceptions throughout Shakespeare's The Tempest, but there are only two illusions in the play: the tempest and the banquet.

In the first scene of the play, Prospero conjures up a storm. He manipulates the wind and the sea to create a false perception for the passengers and crew on the ship, who think they've been shipwrecked by the elements. In reality, this was all orchestrated by Prospero's magic.

In act 3, scene 3, Prospero presents Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, and Gonzalo with the illusion of a sumptuous banquet. As they approach the food-laden table, Ariel claps his false wings on the table, and, "with a quaint device, the banquet vanishes" (stage directions after 3.3.65).

The "quaint device" is a stage trick, an illusion. The simplest way to do this is to have a "flip-top" table that can quickly rotate from a food-laden tabletop to an empty tabletop when Ariel hides it momentarily with his false wings. Alonso, Sebastian, and Antonio hungrily reach for food that suddenly disappears before their eyes.

In act 4, scene 1, Prospero causes a masque to be enacted for Ferdinand and Miranda, in which Ariel and his "meaner fellows" portray the Greek and Roman goddesses Iris, Ceres, and Juno. This is neither an illusion or a deception. It's simply a "play-within-a-play" that Prospero promised to Miranda and Ferdinand as an example of his magic, what Prospero calls "some vanity of mine art" (4.1.44).

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The real vs. the unreal is a major theme in William Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Prospero, the main character, is a powerful magician who uses his powers enact his revenge on his shipwrecked brother and his compatriots, bamboozling them with strange and terrifying visions. Due to Prospero's magic—who is aided by the spirit Ariel—the distinction between what is real and what is unreal is frequently blurred.

A rich textual example for the discussion of the relationship between the real and the unreal is in act 4, scene 1. In this scene, Prospero's daughter, Miranda, marries Ferdinand, and Prospero summons goddesses to celebrate their wedding. Once these visions disappear, Prospero delivers what is arguably the most famous speech in the play:

You do look, my son, in a moved sort,
As if you were dismay'd: be cheerful, sir.
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep. Sir, I am vex'd;
Bear with my weakness; my, brain is troubled:
Be not disturb'd with my infirmity:
If you be pleased, retire into my cell
And there repose: a turn or two I'll walk,
To still my beating mind.

Here, Prospero reassures Ferdinand that what he has just seen was only a vision and, tellingly, compares this vision to the theater.

The Tempest is generally considered to be Shakespeare's farewell to theater; in this moving speech, Prospero—perhaps acting as a mouthpiece for his author—grapples with the fact that once the "visions" (invoked by the play) fade, nothing real is left behind.

Thus, The Tempest's relationship with the real and the unreal (or, in this case, the non-magical and the magical) is intimately tied to a meta-textual relationship between the "real" world and theater.

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