The Tempest’s fantastical elements simultaneously make the play riddled with mystic magic and ambiguity. This opens the text up to several different perceptions, making readers scratch their head in regards to just how much thought they ought to be putting into reading between the lines. This conundrum is perfectly summed up by the question, “William, was it really nothing?”
There’s a variety of perspectives that may be used to describe the play but none of them can succeed to encapsulate it in its entirety. Some possible lens to look at this text through include: the metatheatrical aspect, the political aspect and the psychological aspect.
Through the psychological lens, one may find that The Tempest explores existentialism and absurdism through Prospero’s speeches in Acts 4 and 5 when he talks about the dream-like existence of humans and how all substance shall dissolve to leave behind an empty sphere. The mise-en-abyme found in the masque and Prospero’s commentary on it makes the readers question the reality of the world that Prospero exists in himself, and whether it is as real as the esteemed protagonist believes it to be.
If Prospero is believed to be hallucinating the plot of the play, following the traumatic experience of being shipwrecked with a three-year-old and no way to fend for himself, the story may be understood in an intriguing and refreshing light. The motifs of dreams and sleep draw parallelism to Prospero’s hallucinating mind through the projections of his subconscience in the characters. This refers to Antonio and Sebastian’s conversation as they conspire to kill Alonso and Caliban’s poetic speech on how wakefulness makes him weep to dream again. Prospero’s sorcery is a symbol of his imagined power in this dream-like dimension. The metaphysical setting and surrealistic visual imagery grant a fantastical aura to The Tempest which hints at the play’s existence in Prospero’s imaginative mind.
On the other hand, the concept is almost exhausting in terms of the mental strain required to read into the play and people contradictorily believe that the play is just a play that acts as Shakespeare’s last rant. He uses performance in the theatre in order to mock the rule of King James or to say his final farewell to the arts.
So maybe it’s all of the above or it’s none of them; maybe the answer doesn’t lie in finding answer but merely in looking for it.