Theme is a pervasive idea, belief, or point of view presented in a literary work. Themes in The Tempest, a masterpiece of William Shakespeare, present the issue of freedom and confinement, including themes of betrayal, compassion, and love. Some of the major themes in The Tempest have been analyzed below.
Themes in The Tempest
The Illusion of Justice
Prospero is expelled from his own dukedom when his elder brother rises against him and usurps his powers. The rest of the play is about Prospero plotting on taking the powers back from Alonso. This shows that justice is done if Prospero gets back his throne. However, he keeps Caliban and Ariel his slaves and does not release Ariel despite promises. Prospero uses exploitation and manipulates the situations in his favor, which is contrary to his idea of justice. He uses Ariel against his enemies, as well. When he becomes a merciful monarch, he releases slaves, forgives his enemies, and even abandons using magic. It shows that justice means the happy ending that Prospero establishes by the end of the play.
Superiority of Human Beings
The play revolves around the happy ending and shows the superiority of human beings in a bleak way. When Prospero and his daughter Miranda are stranded on the island, they live there for almost twelve years. Yet, they know how to exploit other humans and creatures for their ends. Ariel is at the beck and call of Prospero, while Miranda deals with Caliban, who tries to attack her. Though Ariel remains faithful, Prospero does not trust him. He believes that he should keep him until they have the means to escape or leave the island.
Allurement of Rule
Human nature loves the romance of allurement in the shape of barren land for adventure as well as an island for the allurement of infinite power. Prospero finds it very easy to rule the island when he has magical powers. Prospero has infinite possibilities of ruling the island all by himself without having resisting subjects. He successfully educates Miranda, his daughter, and exploits Ariel. Caliban protests against Prospero, but this allurement of the rule does not happen. Gonzalo also imagines setting up a utopia over the island for his own rule. Caliban’s proposals lights imaginations of Stephano to set up his own government, having full power too. Even his wishful thinking of marrying Miranda brings laughter when he states Trinculo as his future viceroy, along with Caliban.
Power and Exploitation
In the first instance, Antonio exploits power given by Prospero. When Prospero delegates him Milan to him, he uses it to expel the same person from the dukedom. Prospero goes into exile to save his life. When Prospero learns about Ariel, a sprite, he starts exerting his own power on him. This unique magical power gives him opportunities to take revenge from his enemies. This is another show of power and exploitation. With Ariel, Prospero, also becomes the master of Caliban, the son of a witch, having subhuman nature. Prospero continues exploiting both of these spirits with his magical powers until he changes his heart and learns to forgive his enemies.
Prospero uses magic to keep himself and Miranda safe using magic. He also controls sprites like Ariel and half-witch, Caliban. The incident of tempest and ship tossed during the storm shows is also magic. In the end, he leaves magic as he learns to forgive and sets Ariel free.
Revenge and Forgiveness
At first, Prospero is shown ruling an island, keeping Ariel and Caliban as a slave. He learns magic from books to exact revenge on his enemies. He is determined to seek justice by taking the rightful place of the duke from which he was overthrown by his brother. This revenge takes him too far as he exploits sprite, Ariel, and witch’s son, Caliban. Prospero succeeds in exacting revenge, and he finally forgives his brother. Similarly, when Caliban, too, follows the same path for wrongs and maltreatment by swearing allegiance to Stephano as his new master. Although Prospero shows him the way by the end. Almost all the characters either have conscience or remorse.
Power of Language
Most characters in the play use the power of language to seize power, confuse, confound, convince or manipulate. Prospero stands tall among other characters as he uses superior language. He is good at speaking because he reads books. Through his wit and words, he uses Ariel for his ulterior motives. This even becomes prominent in the case of Caliban, who has not only learned the language but also tries to use it against the mentor Prospero. He clearly curses Miranda telling her that he understands; her father as well as the daughter. When Prospero and Caliban battles for power using language, their speech becomes rhythmic. Caliban tells Prospero that all others hate him for his power of language.
When Prospero and his daughter Miranda lands on the island after they are exiled, Caliban and Ariel are the real inhabitants. However, Prospero uses his power and knowledge to display his superiority on the original inhabitants. Due to this colonization, Ariel laments losing his freedom, and Caliban curses that he has learned language from Prospero. They consider Prospero and his daughter as settlers who have colonized their land. Prospero does not see Caliban fit to rule his island. Caliban also conspires to throw him out of his land to end his rule.
The existence, power, and use of supernatural powers and supernatural entities are seen in the play. The first sign of the power of the supernatural emerges when Prospero is exiled to the island, and he finds magic. He uses magic to enslaves a sprite, Ariel, and then the son of a witch, Caliban. Ariel’s presence is entirely supernatural. First, when he brings tempest in the sea, and second is when he causes Ferdinand to fall in love with Miranda at the request of Prospero.
Slavery is shown in two ways in the play. At first, Ariel is shown working as a slave under Prospero. He is promised freedom once Prospero achieves justice. He bears through the discomfort and helps Prospero to cause havoc on his enemies. Caliban is also a slave doing other chores for him and Miranda.