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The Tempest

Strange Magic



The End of Magic

In V.1, after telling Ariel to release the king’s party from his spells, Prospero expounds upon the magical power he commands:

[…] by whose aid,

(Weak masters though ye be) I have bedimmed

The noontide sun, called forth the mutinous winds,

And ‘twixt the green sea and the azured vault

Set roaring war; to the dread rattling thunder

Have I given fire and rifted Jove’s stout oak

With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory

Have I made shake and by the spurs plucked up

The pine and cedar; graves at my command

Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let ’em forth

By my so potent art. (40–50)

However, he then states he will give that all up:

But this rough magic

I here abjure, and, when I have required

Some heavenly music, which even now I do,

To work mine end upon their senses that

This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,

Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,

And deeper than did ever plummet sound

I’ll drown my book. (50–57)



Knowledge is Power: Books Are Weapons

Even more than Doctor Faustus, The Tempest emphasizes books as a source of comfort & power.

Prospero tells Miranda about the value of books to him:

Me (poor man) my library

Was dukedom large enough: of temporal royalties

He thinks me now incapable. (I.2.109–11)

Knowing I loved my books, he furnished me

From mine own library with volumes that

I prize above my dukedom. (I.166–8)

Caliban instructs Stephano to destroy the books first:


First to possess his books; for without them

He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not

One spirit to command. They all do hate him

As rootedly as I. Burn but his books. (III.2.90–94)

The power of books in the text is juxtaposed with and related to the power of words.

Prospero’s spells often work like Jedi mind tricks:

Thy nerves are in their infancy again

And have no vigour in them.






Literature, Shakespeare’s works included, generally features at least some disparity between narrative time & narrated time. The Tempest, however, unites them. Thus, Prospero’s plot & Shakespeare’s play take the same amount of time:


Now does my project gather to a head:

My charms crack not; my spirits obey; and time

Goes upright with his carriage. How’s the day?


On the sixth hour; at which time, my lord,

You said our work should cease. (V.1.1–5)

Or: “but three glasses since we gave our split” (223).

Other time frames intrude in the action however, like the 12 years of backstory & future plans.

And thence retire me to Milan, where

Every third thought shall be my grave. (311–12)



Clothes Make the Man

Clothes and accessories serve an important role in The Tempest, particularly for Prospero.

After causing the storm, Prospero asks Miranda to remove his “magic garment” in I.2.

Also in I.2. Prospero informs Ferdinand that he “can disarm you with this stick” (473).

In IV.1, it is Prospero’s “glistering apparel” that distracts Stephano & Trinculo from their mission.

In V.1, Prospero tells Ariel

Fetch me the hat and rapier in my cell.

I will discase me, and myself present

As I was sometime Milan. (85–7)

In theater, costumes signify a character’s role & rank within a play, so what do these costume changes mean?




Mercy & Forgiveness

By the end of the play, Prospero has the entire population of the island at his mercy:


Your charm so strongly works ’em

That if you now beheld them, your affections

Would become tender.


Dost thou think so, spirit?


Mine would, sir, were I human.


And mine shall.

King Alonso, in a reversal of rank, asks Prospero to pardon him and restores his dukedom.

Prospero even forgives his brother, though his brother never accepts that forgiveness aloud.

Prospero leads Alonso to the newlyweds who are … playing chess?



Now my charms are all o’erthrown,

And what strength I have’s mine own,

Which is most faint: now, ’tis true,

I must be here confined by you,

Or sent to Naples. Let me not,

Since I have my dukedom got

And pardon’d the deceiver, dwell

In this bare island by your spell;

But release me from my bands

With the help of your good hands:

Gentle breath of yours my sails

Must fill, or else my project fails,

Which was to please. Now I want

Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,

And my ending is despair,

Unless I be relieved by prayer,

Which pierces so that it assaults

Mercy itself and frees all faults.

As you from crimes would pardoned be,

Let your indulgence set me free.