Prospero: A Character Analysis

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The Tempest includes elements of both tragedy and comedy. It was written around 1610 and it's generally considered Shakespeare's final play as well as the last of his romance plays. The story is set on a remote island, where Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, schemes to restore his daughter Miranda to her proper place using manipulation and illusion. He conjures up a storm--the aptly named tempest--to lure his power-hungry brother Antonio and the conspiring King Alonso to the island.

Prospero from The Tempest is the rightful Duke of Milan and father to Miranda who he loves. In the plot, he was supplanted by his brother and sent on a boat to his death but survived by landing on the island.

Power and control are dominant themes in the play. Many of the characters are locked into a power struggle for their freedom and for control of the island, forcing some characters (both good and evil) to abuse their power.

Prospero's Power

Prospero possesses magical powers and is able to conjure spirits and nymphs to perform tasks. With Ariel's help, he conjures the tempest at the start of the play.

Prospero is quite a foreboding character, dealing out punishments, treating his servants with contempt and raising questions about his morality and fairness. Both Ariel and Caliban want to be free of their master which suggests he is not easy to work for.

Ariel and Caliban represent the two sides of Prospero's personality – he can be kind and generous but there is also a darker side to him. Prospero is accused by Caliban of stealing his island and thus seizing power like his brother.

Prospero's power in the Tempest is knowledge and his beloved books demonstrate this as they inform his magic.

Prospero's Forgiveness

Having been wronged by many of the characters, he graciously forgives them. Prospero's desire to rule the island reflects his brother Antonio's desire to rule Milan – they go about realizing their desire in similar ways, but Prospero absolves himself at the end of the play by setting Ariel free.

Even given Prospero's shortcomings as a man, he is pivotal to The Tempest’s narrative. Prospero almost single-handedly drives the play's plot forward with spells, schemes, spells, and manipulations which all work in tandem as part of his grand plan to achieve the play’s ending. Many critics and readers alike interpret Prospero as a surrogate for Shakespeare, letting the audience vicariously explore the ambiguities of the creative process.

Prospero's Final Speech

In Prospero’s final speech, he compares 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. In the final two acts, we come to embrace Prospero as a more likable and sympathetic character. Here, Prospero's love for Miranda, his ability to forgive his enemies, and the true happy ending he schemes to create all coalesce to mitigate the undesirable actions he undertook along the way. Though Prospero can sometimes be seen as autocratic, ultimately he enables the audience to share his understanding of the world.