Issues of power and control are evident from the start of the play. To what extent do you find the truth of this statement reflected in Acts I & II of 'The Tempest'?

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An oddity amongst the works of William Shakespeare, his final individual work; ‘The Tempest’ explores a relatively unknown side to Shakespeare’s imagination, the fantastical, unfair and unreasonable world of magic, spirits and unworldly abilities. Through this play, written in 1611, toward the end of Shakespeare’s career, the writer clearly displays his confidence in his standing within the world of literature. He uses several risky techniques throughout this play, however somehow still keeps the interest of the audience while conveying all information, whether necessary or not. In this way Shakespeare displays his power and control over his use of the English language as well as introducing the audience to this uncharted territory of his imagination.

From the very start of the play Shakespeare presents the audience with the magical power of Prospero. Act I scene i of ‘The Tempest’ begins with a rapid, exciting scene, illustrating the title as ‘the storm.’

This brings about the arrival of Prospero’s brother, the usurping Duke of Milan as well as many of his fellows through the sinking of their ship and them being washed ashore. Using his power of magic Prospero commands the spirit, Ariel to conjure up this storm, but to leave the sailors and travellers alive. His power is highlighted by his daughter Miranda; “If by your art, my dearest father, you have put the wild waters in this roar, allay them,” demonstrating his control over all elements, the spirit of the air, the waves, as Miranda shows her character of such empathy; “O, I have suffered with those that I saw suffer.” However Prospero grows tired of her questioning his motives for raising the storms and with the words; “Thou art inclined to sleep...thou canst not choose,” and Miranda sleeps. This abusive use of his magical power does not endear Prospero to the audience, presenting what would appear to be the world’s most controlling father and his dictator-like power over the island. A very significant and disturbing quality of Prospero, his magic appears to be used as a means to his own benefits, primarily for revenge and suffering. However he also appears to use this power for, although manipulative, good means. He questions, “But are they, Ariel, safe?” showing what would seems to be compassion for those in the ship wreck, but this is possibly just for consideration of his daughters empathy as well as ensuring his enemies are brought to him alive. This is reinforced by him using his magic in regards to the first meeting of Miranda and Ferdinand. Having never set eyes upon a young man such as Ferdinand before Miranda is unsure of his nature; “What is’t? A spirit?” emphasising Prospero’s protective nature and the isolation of her life on the island. Using his powers Prospero causes Miranda to fall instantly for Ferdinand; “I might call him a thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw so noble.” This would seem unnecessary hastle for Prospero, however it may yet to be seen if it is in aid of his own affairs.

Despite having magical power and control over the island, Prospero’s history of control is not exactly inspiring. Through the telling of his past to Miranda, Prospero coveys his feelings of spiteful loathing towards his brother, Alonso. “The government I cast upon my brother,” tells of how he simply handed over his command to Alonso and his admittance that “to my state grew stranger, being transported and rapt in secret studies,” shows the he himself is to blame for his abdication and eviction. Alonso now has the power and control that Prospero once owned. Referring to his brother as “The ivy which had hid my princely trunk,” depicts Prospero’s hate towards him, seeing him as a weed, destroying his command and power over Milan. Interestingly power in the form of terriroty appears regularly throughout acts I and II. Initially Prospero naturally appears to have control of the island, however it is discovered later in act I that he is not the true owner of the land. Caliban claims; “This island’s mine, by Sycorax my mother, which thou tak’st from me,” while presenting the first character to stand up to the dictating personality of Prospero. He speaks of Prospero’s kindness when he was first stranded on the island; “Though strok’st me, and made much of me; would’st give me Water with berries in’t,” displaying the kinder side to Prospero, as well as displaying his own generosity, “I loved three, and showed the all the qualities o’th’isle,” of which Prospero eventually took advantage. This hate between these two characters, caused by this theft of power by Prospero, brings out Caliban’s elegant, intelligent use of language; “As wicked dew as e’er my mother brushed with raven’s feather...and blister you all o’er!” showing off Shakepseare’s use of language to depict a character as intelligent, knowledgeable and impressive.

From the loss of control over dukedoms and islands by both Prospero and Caliban it is made clear that the ownership of land is of great significance in these times. Further emphasised by the immediate thoughts of Antonio and Sebastian as the Duke of Milan sleeps by Ariel’s spell; “Th’occasion speaks thee, and my strong imagination sees a crown dropping upon thy head,” showing that the idea of power of such an island is extremely attractive, so much so that murder is in the minds of these two treacherous men, another form of evil brought into the play, compelled by human desire, by Shakespeare.

It is through the diversity of power, ranging from that of magic to the simple, primitive battle over territory and the wanting of human desire, that Shakespeare creates a plot of many layers, each easily perceived to involve power and control, concerning mostly personal ambition. But aren’t most plays and novels written with the intention of interchanging power and domination by control? It can be seen in plenty of Shakespeare’s plays, especially in ‘Othello’, where the need for power, not only by military position, but also the control over manipulation of others, that the plot is often based around man’s unquenchable thirst for supremacy. This, in a certain light, can be seen as the basis of all literature and, under the circumstances of unequal sharing of power in ‘The Tempest’ that brings about the evil affairs in act I and II. Whether this theme continues throughout the rest of this unique and surprising play remains to be seen.

Bibliography - 'William Shakespeare' 'The Tempest' - Penguin Shakespeare, published 2007