blind ambition in the Tempest

The Tempest is one of my favourites by Shakespeare. The fact that it is set in such an enclosed, ¬†isolated, and exotic place makes for not only a nicely different visual aesthetic ¬†from many Shakespeare plays, but it also initiates an interesting social experiment between the characters. For it was intriguing to watch the behaviours of people with such controlling, ambitious personalities in a place too desolate for there to be much to control at all. There was a sense of juvenile futility and desperation in seeing such a mass of (literally) washed up noblemen with obstinately determined personalities conspiring for control of whatever they could get their hands on. The characters in the Tempest are so seized by their ambitions of gaining status, that they continuously overlook the logistics of the situation. Very rarely is their a discussion surrounding actually getting back to the country they all so wish to rule. Furthermore, the plot Caliban leads (all while drunk) to help usurp Prospero on an island with little to rule anyways emphasizes the potential pettiness which ambition can lead to. This is especially true when put into the context of people who are unable to reap the benefits of their potential successes, as are the likes of Sebastien and Antonio, as they’re trapped on an island.


On another note, the idea that Platonic themes were incorporated into the play confused me a bit. How exactly is Prospero a philosopher king? It was also mentioned in lecture that some characters in the play have “soul-types” which can be categorized into those outlined in The Republic (that of appetite, spirit, and reason). This seems accurate, but not like complete proof of the connection.

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  1. I think your point about the pettiness of ambition in the play was really interesting. It makes a lot of sense especially in the case of Stephano & co. I can understand Caliban’s wish to overthrow Prospero and take back his island, but from Stephano it seems a little ridiculous.
    As for Prospero being a philosopher king, I can see it in the sense that he is ruled by reason and his studies. He had no real wish (at the time) to have a position of power in Milan and instead gave it up for the pursuit of knowledge(reason). I am not sure that this comparison works for him at the end of the play.

  2. I agree with Maaike on the point about Prospero as a philosopher-king. I have a couple of other ideas too:
    — he seems very concerned about Ferdinand and Miranda not consummating their relationship before marriage–he wants to make sure their appetites don’t get the better of them (of course, this is also for political reasons, but it fits the “reason-focused” idea)
    — we might think of him going off on his own to study (do philosophy, for example, or perfect his ‘art’), and then coming back down into the “cave” to rule by returning back to Italy (this one might be a stretch?)
    — if we think of Caliban as having an appetitive soul (can we? that is something it would be interesting to look at in class on Friday, but he does talk about raping Miranda and he seems too focused on the “celestial liquor” of Stephano), then we can think of Prospero’s rule over him as that of reason over appetites
    — and if Ariel is like spirit (again, something we’d have to think about further; that he has the name “spirit” isn’t enough, I think), then ditto for Prospero’s rule over Ariel
    — not sure where to put Miranda in these soul-types, though!

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