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Transformation by theatre in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”

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1. The Transformation of Prospero

In Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” the figure of Prospero, the former Duke of Milan, forms the key element of all actions and developments throughout the play. He incorporates absolute power over the other characters and generates the plot of the play almost uninfluenced. For an in-depth understanding of the play it is therefore indispensable to analyse whether or not he undertakes a transformation in character or behaviour and hence interrupts a straight development of the plot.

Taking into consideration his first and last scene of appearance the audience might get the impression of a major change in character. In the beginning he is presented as an extremely powerful magician, driven by a feeling of revenge. ” Hast thou, spirit, performed to point the tempest that I bade thee? – To every article.” (1.2.194-196) In the last scene he lays off all his supernatural powers and wants to return to being the Duke of Milan, the position he held before having been deported to the island. ” …to work mine end upon their senses that this airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff, …and deeper than did ever plummet sound I’ll drown my book.” (5.1.553-57)

But on a deeper analysis of the play one realises that he makes much more the impression of a dramatist, building the story successively towards a happy ending, where he can let all powers behind because his cause is finished and at the same time just. Right at the beginning of his first appearance he predicts that nobody will be harmed and therefore expresses his aim to come to a peaceful understanding. ” The direful spectacle of the wreck,…I have…so safely ordered that there is no soul – no, not so much perdition as an hair betid to any creature in the vessel…” (1.2.26-31). Furthermore we have his commanding of Ariel, a spirit bound to him. Also at the very beginning of the play he informs the spirit exactly for how long he will be in need of his service and holds to his promise. ” My Ariel, chick, that is thy charge. Then to the elements be free, and fare thou well.” (5.1.320-321)

Therefore Prospero does not really undergo a transformation in character. In the end he holds the same position he had before the actions of the play started and at all times he has supernatural power. He just does not need these powers any more.

2. Transformation of the audience

In the first place people go to the theatre in order to be entertained. But they also want to take something home with them, they want to learn something. Therefore the writer must be interested in giving his play an auspicious message, something indefinable but at the same time perceptible, something that enlightens the lives of the audience, transforms them.

In the case of “The Tempest” Shakespeare clearly outlines one protagonist, Prospero. He, like a director of a play, tightly holds all the reins and therefore it can be gathered that the effect the play will have on the spectator solely depends on the impression he makes.

Regarding the character of Prospero under these circumstances one may conclude that the general message conveyed is of positive origin. First of all it may be considered how he moves into the gentle world of forgiveness. Prospero has done all he can do; he forgives Caliban, he sets aside the past, he breaks his staff and moves on. The play ends with a great sense of peace and satisfaction. “There, sir, stop. Let not burden our remembrance with a heaviness that’s gone.” ( 5.1.203-204). Not only is he not vindictive but he also shows that he would have accepted his fate if it would not have been for his daughter. “I have done nothing but in care of thee, of thee, my dear one, thee, my daughter, who art ignorant of what thou art, …” (1.2.16-18) Furthermore, the audience gets the impression that Prospero re-establishes the God-given order and therefore consolidates the belief in the good in man. “Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell. I will discase me, and myself present as I was sometime Milan.” (5.1.85-86).

It might be concluded that the play has the effect of a catharsis. The audience is purified, the belief in good is re-established, and forgiveness and devotion praised.

3. Shakespeare transformed by theatre

By many critics “The Tempest” is regarded as Shakespeare’s last intended play. And in the character of Prospero they think to find many allegories to Shakespeare’s own career and life in the theatre. Both act as directors in their plays, both have an unusual power at their disposal as long as they are on stage and both of them lay these powers off when coming to the end of the play. This enumeration names just a few of them.

If this comparison can be regarded as applicable, we find in the play a description of the transformation Shakespeare experienced during his years in London. Through the stage he received a power, a position in life and society otherwise not reachable and he made use of it in order to bring to the world an idea of goodness and justice, receiving fame and honour in return.

But considering the Epilogue at the very end of the play, at the end of his career, Shakespeare emphasises that he is nothing more than a normal man, who is dependent upon the mercy of others.

“Now ’tis true I must be here confined by you or sent to Naples. Let me not, since I have my dukedom got, and pardoned the deceiver, dwell in this bare island by your spell; but release me from my bands with the help of your good hands.” (Epilogue. 5-10)

Therefore it is the theatre that made him appear like something outstanding, something special, but underneath he never changed, he was still the same man.

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