Prospero's books, from Shakespeare's "The Tempest"

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The central character of "The Tempest", Prospero, is one of Shakespeare's more enigmatic protagonists. He is a sympathetic character in that he was wronged by his usurping brother, but his absolute power over the other characters and his overwrought speeches make him difficult to like. He appears to be pretentious and self-important, yet his repeated insistence that Miranda should pay attention suggests that his story is boring her. Once Prospero moves on to a subject other than his absorption in the pursuit of knowledge, Miranda's attention is captivated. The books are a symbol of Prospero's dangerous desire to withdraw entirely from the world. It was his pursuit of knowledge that put him at the mercy of his ambitious brother: "Me, poor man, my library / Was dukedom large enough: of temporal royalties / He thinks me now incapable;" (I.ii.106-108). By neglecting everyday matters when he was the duke, he gave his brother a chance to rise up against him.

Prospero's books are also a symbol of his power. "Remember / First to possess his books;" Caliban says to Stefano and Trinculo, "for without them / He's but a sot" (III.ii.94-96). But these studies of his have been done in secret and used to discover new forces, to study the greater effects of physics in order to create and practice magic. However beneficial this type of magic was, his possession and use of magical knowledge renders him extremely powerful and not entirely sympathetic. His punishments of Caliban are petty and vindictive and he is defensively autocratic with Ariel. He is similarly unpleasant in his treatment of Ferdinand, leading him to his daughter and then imprisoning and enslaving him.

The way he treats his daughter is also subject to condemnation. He is totally inconsiderate of his daughter's feelings and...