Prospero: Character Analysis of Shakespeare's 'Tempest' Protagonist

Prospero
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Shakespeare's final play, "The Tempest," involves many characters, but the protagonist is Prospero. The rightful Duke of Milan, Prospero was usurped by his brother, Antonio, and cast away on a boat. Twelve years later, he has made himself ruler of the deserted island he landed on and has developed a plan to return home and make things right—this is the cause for the opening storm.

Prospero is one of Shakespeare's more complicated characters. He shows himself to be all at once kind, cruel, vindictive and forgiving.

Prospero's Power

Overall, Prospero is quite a foreboding character—he deals out punishments, treats his servants with contempt, and his morality and fairness are questionable. Both Ariel and Caliban want to be free of their master, which suggests he is unpleasant to work for.

Beyond Prospero's power over his servants, he possesses power over all other characters because of his magical abilities. This is most clearly exemplified at the start of the play, where he uses his powers (and help from Ariel) to conjure the tempest itself. His magic, knowledge, and beloved books give him the capacity to direct the actions of others.

Prospero's Forgiveness

Prospero was wronged by many of the characters in the play, and this reflects in his actions. His desire to rule the island reflects his brother Antonio's desire to rule Milan, and they go about it in similar—arguably unethical—ways.

That said, by the end of the play, Prospero graciously forgives the characters from home. He even absolves himself of his tyranny over Ariel by setting him free.

Prospero's Last Impression

In the last two acts, we come to embrace Prospero as a more likable and sympathetic character. His love for Miranda, ability to forgive his enemies, and the true happy ending he creates all coalesce to mitigate the undesirable actions he undertook along the way. Though Prospero can sometimes act like an autocrat, he ultimately enables the audience to share his understanding of the world.

In Prospero’s final speech, he likens himself to a playwright by asking the audience to applaud, turning the play’s final scene into a touching celebration of art, creativity, and humanity.

Prospero's Role in 'The Tempest'

Despite Prospero's shortcomings as a man, he is pivotal to the narrative of "The Tempest." Prospero almost single-handedly drives the play's plot forward with spells, schemes, and manipulations which all work in tandem as part of his grand plan to achieve the play’s ending.

Because of this and the "playwright" theme of the epilogue, many critics and readers alike interpret Prospero as a surrogate for Shakespeare himself.