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Vengeance and Forgiveness in Shakespeare's The Tempest Essay

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Vengeance and Forgiveness in Shakespeare's The Tempest


There are many elements in Shakespeare's play, The Tempest, which one cannot reconcile with the real world. The main theme in The Tempest is illusion, and the main focus is the experiment by Prospero.

The Tempest, it is clear, features an experiment by Prospero. He has not brought the Europeans to the vicinity of the island, but when they do come close to it, he has, through the power of illusion, lured them into his very special realm. The experiment first of all breaks up their social solidarity, for they land in different groups: Ferdinand by himself, the court group, Stephano and Trinculo by themselves, and the sailors remain asleep. The magic leads them by separate paths until they all meet in the circle drawn by Prospero in front of his cave. There he removes the spell of the illusions; the human family recognizes each other, and together they resolve to return to Italy, leaving behind the powers of the magic associated with the island.

            Before considering the purpose of Prospero's experiment, we should note how central to all his magic Ariel is. And Ariel is not human but a magical spirit who has been released from natural bondage (being riven up in a tree) by Prospero's book learning. The earlier inhabitants of the island, Sycorax and Caliban, had no sense of how to use Ariel, and so they simply imprisoned him in the world which governs them, raw nature. Prospero's power depends, in large part, on Ariel's release and willing service. In that sense, Ariel can be seen as some imaginative power which makes the effects of the theatre (like lightning in the masts of the boat) possible. One of the great attractions of this view of the play as a celeb...


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... vengeance. (5.1. 18-28)

Here, the imaginative sympathy for the sufferings of others leads to an active intervention based upon "virtue" rather than "vengeance." This is a key recognition in the play: virtue expressed in forgiveness is a higher human attribute than vengeance. And in the conclusion of the play, Prospero does not even mention the list of crimes against him. He simply offers to forgive and accept what has happened to him, in a spirit of reconciliation. Unlike other Shakespeare plays, the ending of The Tempest requires neither the death nor the punishment of any of the parties.

Works Cited and Consulted:

Gervinus, G.G. "The Tempest." The Shakespeare Criticism Volume 8. Gale Research Inc., Detroit. 1989: 304-307.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. The Norton Shakespeare. Ed. Greenblatt, Stephen. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. Inc., 1997.


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