What was Shakespeare's aim in writing The Tempest?

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While it is difficult to know any author's exact aims, Shakespeare's aim when he wrote The Tempest was likely to show the value of mercy and forgiveness. As one of his last works, it has also been thought that he added more of himself into the character of Prospero than he had done previously.

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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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