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The Tempest | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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What is the role of the Epilogue in Shakespeare's The Tempest?

An epilogue is a section of writing in a novel or a speech in a play that comes after the resolution and provides additional commentary or information about what happens to the characters. In the epilogue of The Tempest Prospero appears as though he is both a character in a play and like an actor addressing the crowd, blending reality with the illusion of theater. Prospero, the character, summarizes how he has gotten back his dukedom and forgiven those who wronged him. Then he asks the audience to show they have been enchanted by the play "or else my project fails." Prospero says their appreciative applause will be the fuel that sails him to Naples, which is, again, an illusion. Through the epilogue Shakespeare wraps up the events of the play while reminding the audience that in the end it is just a play.

Considering that Prospero is in some ways meant to represent Shakespeare as a maker of art, what might Prospero's release of magic at the end of The Tempest signify?

Just as Prospero is the orchestrator of the plot that plays out as the result of the tempest, so is Shakespeare the author of Prospero's drama. These parallels point to a metanarrative that contemplates the nature of artmaking. Prospero retreats from his responsibilities as duke in pursuit of magic, which he is ultimately, after banishment, able to exercise through Ariel, who is in many ways Prospero's muse. In the end when Prospero surrenders his magic, he loses the ability to control the other players. In parallel when Shakespeare closes a play, he relinquishes his position as the all-powerful creator of his characters.

Why doesn't Prospero reveal Antonio and Sebastian's plot against King Alonso in Act 5, Scene 1, in Shakespeare's The Tempest?

Prospero likely keeps the plot against King Alonso a secret for several reasons. First Prospero is extending forgiveness to everyone, despite the nature of their sins. He is reestablishing the right order of things through his mercy. It is clear that Antonio and Sebastian's plan will now be thwarted, so there is no reason to reveal it to the king. Prospero's reasoning may not all be pure kindness, however. By not revealing the plot Prospero keeps control over Sebastian and Antonio. They will want to remain in his good graces lest he expose their treasonous plan to Alonso sometime in the future.

How do the discussions of power and magic in Shakespeare's The Tempest relate to early modern ideas about these forces?

During the Renaissance highly regarded thinkers began to embrace the notion that the spirit realm was real and could possibly be harnessed for good and selfless purposes. This concept stood at odds with the pursuit of absolute power that manifested through colonialist endeavors across Europe, and it is seen in the set of usurping leaders in the play. Prospero is endowed with the belief that he is harnessing the spirit world through his command of Ariel. He intends to use white, or good, magic to reconcile men, moving past the quest for revenge by forgiving and restoring order. Yet in doing so Prospero secures for himself a degree of absolute power. He has not only been reinstated as the duke of Milan; he will also have a ruling say in Naples, where his daughter Miranda will sit on the queen's throne. The contradictory idea of using selfless, good magic to gain absolute power is reminiscent of Gonzalo's contradictory idea of using his authority to create a perfect society in which no one would have authority.

What does the character of Miranda represent throughout Shakespeare's The Tempest?

Miranda is a purely innocent character in the play. Having left Italy as a young child, she has grown up as a product of the lush and beautiful island where she has been kept separate from the problems of the civilized world. She cannot tolerate human suffering—when she sees her father orchestrating the tempest at the beginning of the play she begs him to stop. When she first sees other humans she marvels at their beauty. The one evil she has faced is Caliban, but her powerful father has protected her with his magic. Miranda symbolizes a view of humanity that suggests that at birth humans are pure and innocent and only learn evil from the society around them.

Why is the state of Ferdinand and Miranda's relationship at the end of Shakespeare's The Tempest significant?

At the end of The Tempest the engaged couple is ready to set sail for Naples where they will be married and eventually become king and queen. King Alonso and Prospero fully support their marriage. The impending wedding is the "happiest" part of the ending of The Tempest. Not only does it bring joy to Miranda and Ferdinand, but it is in this union that all the wrongs of the past have been righted. Their marriage reestablishes a social order that is good for those around them, suggesting that Shakespeare also believes that good and just governance is important for society, not just for individual happiness. From a more cynical viewpoint it also shows that Prospero has secured a very advantageous marriage for his daughter. The king of Naples is a greater ruler than the duke of Milan, so Prospero has advanced his family's social position as well as regaining his original one.

Why is it significant that so many characters express the desire to rule the island throughout Shakespeare's The Tempest?

At the beginning of the play Prospero has taken over as the ruler of the island. Caliban is eager to regain control over the island. When Gonzalo sees the beauty of the island he imagines the ideal commonwealth that he might establish there. Stephano, too, becomes greedy and ambitious about making the island his own dominion. The motivation for becoming ruler is different for the different men, but in each case they suggest that they would be the best ruler. In this way Shakespeare suggests that everyone has some desire to control and to order the world the way he or she wants. He also raises the question about what the "right" kind of control should look like.

What is the difference between the magic of the witch Sycorax and of Prospero in Shakespeare's The Tempest?

Readers learn about the nature of the witch Sycorax early in the play when Prospero explains how the "foul witch Sycorax" had performed "mischiefs manifold, and sorceries terrible." She imprisoned Ariel in a tree before she died. Nothing about Sycorax's use of magic was noble or life affirming, and there are many allusions made in the play that suggest her powers came from controlling hellish or devilish spirits. Prospero, on the other hand, has learned magic in order to put things to right, and the spirits he controls are connected with more positive ideas of angels and natural forces. Also Prospero does not harm anyone, even keeping the sailors in a sleeping spell while he brings about restoration with his brother, the king, and others. In the end Prospero uses his magic to release Ariel from any servitude.

In Shakespeare's The Tempest how did Prospero rule Milan before he was exiled, and how might he rule differently when he returns?

Prospero was a distracted and gullible ruler when he was the duke of Milan. His desire to study his books kept him disengaged from his people, and he put his brother in charge of many aspects of his government. Now that Prospero has seen the outcome of poor leadership, he is ready to return to Milan and rule differently. He has learned to rule in his time of isolation, and he is at ease with wielding power over others. He destroys the very books that were once his obsession, showing restraint and a willingness to self-sacrifice. Throughout his experience Prospero has learned the value of patience, justice, and of mercy, all elements of a virtuous and benevolent ruler. However, Prospero hints at the very end of the play, just before the Epilogue, that he plans to "retire me to Milan, where/Every third thought shall be my grave." This suggests that a part of him will remain contemplative and philosophical despite his satisfaction with being restored as the rightful ruler of Milan.

What is the significance of the relationship between music and Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest?

Ariel is associated with the higher, spiritual order of human nature and its expression through poetry and music. Critics such as Rutland Boughton posit that the value of music in The Tempest is its ability to call forth the "rhythms and moods" of the spiritual world in a way that poetry can only approximate. Prospero's belief about the link between music and the spirit world is made evident when he speaks of Ariel's art as "some heavenly music" and discloses that it is on account of this music that he can "work [his] end upon their senses" in Act 4, Scene 1. When Prospero frees Ariel from his service, he also sets down his staff and ability to use magic to access the musical spirit world.

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