Sunday, December 2, 2012
The Human Desire to Obtain Power: A Look into The Tempest
Throughout dramatic writing, the character’s internal desire for power often creates a large amount of the drama involved within the work. Shakespeare’s dramatic works are no exception to this rule. Many of Shakespeare’s characters are drawn to immoral actions by this tempting appeal of power, including Claudius in Hamlet, Macbeth, and many more. In The Tempest, the theme of power takes on an extremely central role as many of the character’s become consumed by the idea of achieving influence in society. This play therefore uses the isolated setting of an island to highlight and intensify the depiction of this strong human desire-- the desire to obtain power at all costs.
In 3.2, we see that Caliban has a problem with surrendering to the power of Prospero, and is willing to help Stefano and Trinculo in their plan to destroy him. Caliban says, “As I told thee before, I am subject to a tyrant, a sorcerer that by this cunning hath cheated me on the island” (3.2.40-41). Here, we see that the tension between master and servant arises when there is an abuse of power, and the servants feels like the master has overreached their boundaries. Caliban takes his master’s tyrannical actions as an invitation to rise against his power. He therefore believes that by obtaining power for himself, he will have more influence and control over the establishment of justice in society.
While Caliban’s desire to achieve power is rooted in his vengeance towards Prospero, Antonio and Sebastian are characters who are simply consumed by the glory associated with achieving power. They want power for the mere sake of controlling the government of the island, and not having to bow down to Alonso and Gonzalo’s rule. There are essentially resistant characters who do not handle authority well. In 2.2, they immorally plot to kill Alonso and Gonzalo as a means to open the way for their own social climbing. In 2.1, Sebastians says, “But for your conscience” (in reference to Antonio’s immoral actions to gain more power). In response, Antonio says, “Ay, sir, where lies that? If ‘twere a kibe/ ‘Twould put me to my slipper; but I feel not deity in my bosom...” (2.1.272-274). Here, we see that Antonio does not care about the moral implications of achieving political power, and feels no remorse for taking advantage of the power Prospero granted him. Instead he expresses his desire to obtain a greater influence in society at all costs. This example shows us that even those characters with power have a lust for more. Power therefore has an addictive component, and tends to blind the characters of their moral obligations to themselves and others.
So far in The Tempest, power struggles have been extremely prevalent and morality has been absent in many of these power-hungry characters. While characters, such as Caliban, have some background motives driving them to immoral action, other characters merely allow themselves to become consumed by their internal desire to obtain power. By setting this play on an island, Shakespeare therefore creates the ideal, confined space in which the truth and tragedy of human desire can be exposed.