Monday, December 3, 2012

Potter on a Deserted Island

                It is surprising that I found The Tempest so disturbing considering the saturated vampire werewolf and zombie world that we live in.  The supernatural doesn’t bother me. I loved Prospero’s Harry Potter wizard qualities so I had figure out what it was that creeped me out about this play.  The conclusion that I came to is that the way Prospero wields his control in the play creates an imbalance leaning more towards unjust than justice.

                While Prospero was unfairly driven from his kingdom because of his lackadaisical attention he overcompensate son the island. He becomes a control freak.  He is so addicted to the power of controlling others he has difficulty relinquishing power while he has Ariel and Caliban to do his bidding. It seems as if Ariel has paid Prospero back tenfold the way he flits about the island for him, yet Prospero dangles freedom in front of Ariel like a carrot.    In act 1 Ariel inquires about, “My liberty” (1.2.247) and Prospero goes on a tirade reminding him of all he has done for him.  Ariel immediately backs down and continues licking Prospero’s boots (if he was wearing any).  Even at the play’s end it is not clear if Prospero frees Ariel. He is a loyal servant but Prospero only has regard for his plans.

                Caliban is another one of Prospero’s creepy, supernatural servants. Caliban is not at all complimentary of Prospero as Ariel is. Caliban would be dangerous if he was set free which explains Prospero’s control over him. Although Caliban is such a vile thing he would be less offensive to Prospero and Miranda’s sensibilities if he was locked away out of sight but Prospero uses him for physical labor. Even though  Caliban..”didst seek to violate the honour of [his] child” (1.2.350-351) he keeps him around to fetch firewood. A better purpose for him and his long, pig-nut digging nails would be banished out to sea.

                Prospero also exhibits control over his sweet, innocent daughter.   He tests Miranda’s  control of her virtue. Even though he knows that she thinks Ferdinand, “carries a brave form” (1.2.415) and thinks he is “A thing divine, for nothing natural I ever saw noble” (1.2.423-424) he still tests her ability to follow his orders and abstain while she is alone with him.  He does exercise his fatherly duties in testing Ferdinand’s intentions but then he still uses his daughter in his grand scheme to exact revenge.

                While Prospero was removed from his position because of his lack of control he goes overboard once he gains some control. He uses whoever he can to increase his power and move the players in his game as he sees fit.


Christine Richin said...

For the sake of playing devil’s advocate, I think you should reconsider the situation from Prospero’s perspective. If it were not for the fact that the people of Milan loved him, his own brother would have had him killed. Prospero would have died for no reason other than because his brother had made a deal with the King of Naples to officially take Prospero’s title, despite all the power that had already been granted to him. Instead, Prospero ended up being exiled to a deserted island inhabited only by an evil witch and her son. And until they reached the shore of this horrid place, he and his infant daughter Miranda were left to fend for themselves in a rotten boat out at sea with hardly any supplies to keep them alive. In light of these circumstances, murder may even be considered the kinder fate.
I think if you want to talk about the unjust nature of Prospero’s actions you cannot ignore the acts of injustice that had him banished in the first place. Like you said, it was his lack of attentiveness as a ruler in Milan that ultimately led to his exile. In the grand scheme of things, with consideration of the horrors that many other rulers and dictators have been responsible for throughout the course of history, Prospero’s faults as a duke did not constitute a punishment of this magnitude. In that sense, I think what you may be mistaking for overcompensation is actually a defeated man’s passionate attempt to restore an order of justice in the world.

Myra Gonzalez said...

Prospero definitely uses his magic to regain control after he lost his position as Duke. He is ironic how he takes the island from Caliban which is exactly the same treatment he received when he was cast on the island. He has no remorse for his actions against Caliban and he dominates Ariel. I believe he doesn't release Ariel because he says to him at the end on the play:

PROSPERO...My Ariel,
That is thy charge. Then to the elements
Be free... (5.1.332-335)

He endears Ariel by calling him “chick” and he had to sweet talk him because he knew he was breaking his promise to free him. It is clear he has no intention of letting him be free because there will always be on additional thing for him to do for Prospero. It is clear that throughout the play Prospero is trying to find a balance on the island after he lost his position as duke but he needs magic's help because on his own his power lacks strength.

Samantha Grove said...

Something creeped me out when I was reading the play too! After reading your post I think I might have had the same problem. He cant even keep his promises, as Myra was saying. Though I believe he does release Ariel, as we talked about in class, he changes the time he has promised to release him. At first its "after" two days, then its "within" two days, and then as the Norton text states "he actually releases Ariel in about four hours time"! Though this may not be a bad thing I think that it definitely shows him "leaning more towards unjust than justice" as you said and foreshadows the events of the play.

Kaitlyn Schleicher said...

I think the idea of control is so prevalent in this play. I totally agree with you that there is something creepy about this play. Prospero aside, the topic of rape was brought up, which is a scary and twisted form of control - in this case, masculine control. Control is scary in any sense, and Prospero has to have it all. It's intimidating, and somehow Shakespeare writes it in a way in which we, as readers feel intimidated even though we're not in the play.

Cyrus Mulready said...

I think that in order to see Prospero's control as not creepy, we have to believe his motives are pure and good. I'm not sure what the first audiences would have thought, but today I find that most of my students agree with you, Pamela, that his orchestration of events on the island is disturbing. Perhaps that is, in part, because we are unsure about his motives and whether things will be better back in Italy? Do we feel any better knowing that Ferdinand and Miranda will be the next generation of rulers? One of the problems with that interpretation is Miranda's excoriating speech to Caliban: "Abhorred slave!" He did attempt to rape her, which partly justifies her reaction, but it makes me wonder how she will rule.