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Shakespeare's aim and purpose for the metatheatre in The Tempest


Shakespeare's use of metatheatre in The Tempest serves to highlight the themes of illusion and reality, as well as to comment on the nature of theatrical performance itself. Through characters like Prospero, who controls events like a director, Shakespeare blurs the lines between the play and the audience's reality, inviting reflection on the power and artifice of storytelling.

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What was Shakespeare's aim in writing The Tempest?

Although it is difficult to know any author's exact motives in writing, Shakespeare's purpose in writing The Tempest, beyond entertaining an audience, may have been to show the value of mercy and forgiveness. All through his plays, Shakespeare displays approval towards those who exhibit these qualities. In this late play, he foregrounds these two virtues.

Throughout most of the play, Prospero revels in the idea of getting his long-awaited revenge on his enemies. There is no doubt that he and his daughter Miranda were badly wronged. Prospero's younger brother Antonio, with the help of Alonso, the King of Naples, took Prospero's rightful throne. Worse, Antonio sent Prospero and the very young Miranda out to sea in a leaky boat intending for them to drown.

Instead, Prospero and Miranda landed on an almost deserted island. Prospero perfected his skills at magic. When Antonio and Alonso, with some influence from Prospero's magic, shipwreck on the island, Prospero is perfectly positioned to take revenge.

Nevertheless, just when Prospero has them where he wants them, he decides not to go through with his vengeful plans. The example of Ariel influences him to be merciful when he tells Prospero how sorry he feels for the frightened men.

Prospero is struck that a mere spirit made of air has more mercy and compassion than he, a human, does. He is so moved that he decides to take the higher path and show mercy toward his enemies. Prospero says,

Though with their high wrongs I am struck to th' quick, Yet with my nobler reason 'gainst my fury Do I take part. The rarer action is In virtue than in vengeance.

Prospero, often seen as a self-portrait of Shakespeare, forgives, even though Antonio never repents for having stolen his throne. Prospero's forgiveness lends a feeling of relief to the play's ending. Arguably, the main value of the mercy is felt by Prospero. He is liberated by his ability to forgive.

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What is Shakespeare's purpose for the metatheatre in The Tempest?

William Shakespeare’s play The Tempest is set on a small, largely undeveloped island, so the setting is rather austere. The core of the play is the interactions among the characters, who are concerned with love, and the equitable resolution of political conflict. More elaborate images can be provided through the fantastic scenes created through the magical actions of Prospero and Ariel. In terms of visual interest, the audience might find limited appeal in the play’s austere setting. The bold theatricality of the masque that Shakespeare includes in Act IV offers a complex performance and an appealing setting. This elaborate presentation would increase the “wow factor” for the viewers.

The themes of the play-within-a-play closely correspond to the those that Shakespeare had established in the larger play. Prospero uses his magic to bring Miranda and Ferdinand together, but they must learn to love through their own volition. The messages in the deities’ performances bear out the idea that true love is a meeting of like-minded persons. Prospero not only encourages Ferdinand to behave properly toward his daughter, but he reminds the audience of the characters present on the stage, as well as the audience watching in the theater of the importance of honesty, fairness, and keeping one’s promises. His message is also for the dukes who have committed to restoring the proper political balance in Milan and Sicily, where the couple will reign.

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