Prospero’s Forgiveness

Prospero’s Books places a lot of emphasis on the control Prospero has over the rest of the characters. Using Prospero to narrate all of the characters lines, the audience are given a feeling that everything is being staged by him. He is in control of the story, and the characters are merely his pawns, acting out his wishes. Towards the end however, Prospero seems to give up control over the other characters and they finally speak in their own voices.

The crucial point where this happens is the very beginning of act 5 scene 1, where Ariel speaks to Prospero about the present conditions of all his enemies. Ariel speaks the line “Your charm so strongly works’em that if you now beheld them, your affections would become tender.” (17-19 act 5 scene 1) This line is repeated several times and it’s the first time Ariel speaks in his own voice. From this point on, all of the characters starts to speak in their own voices. But why this line? What is so special that happens here which made Prospero decide to let the characters speak for themselves? The answer is probably quite obvious. One of the most obvious themes of The Tempest is forgiveness and reconciliation and it can be said that it is at this point, Prospero decides to not pursue revenge but rather forgive his brother.  He replies to Ariel “And mine shall. Hast thou… be kindlier moved than thou art?” (20-24 act 5 scene 1). The movie emphasizes Ariel’s line and suggests that Ariel’s words moved Prospero and helped him make the decision about forgiving his brother. However, it is not very believable that someone like Prospero, would be dissuaded from revenge so easily, by one single sentence from his servant. There must be other more obscure reasons why Prospero decides to forgive when he has the power to take revenge.

The marriage between Miranda and Ferdinand could be a possible explanation for Prospero’s behaviour. After all, love can dissolve all hatred. But let’s not forget, Miranda and Ferdinand’s meeting was staged by Prospero, he was the one who brought Ferdinand to Miranda. Therefore it seems that their marriage is within Prospero’s calculation, and all of it happened before Prospero decides to forgive his enemies. This would suggest that Prospero already forgave his enemies at the very beginning of the play. If so, what is the meaning of the exchange between Prospero and Ariel? If Prospero already forgave his brother, why did he act like he was moved by Ariel? These are questions we will never be able to fully answer, but here is my speculation.

Prospero was only pretending to be moved by Ariel. While the movie seems to highlight Ariel’s influence on Prospero’s decision, the play itself does not do that. It could well be that Prospero already decided to forgive his brother and he was only pretending that Ariel’s words moved him. This would mean that Prospero had this in mind already when he started the tempest. He will make his brother and his enemies suffer, but in the end he will play the good person and forgive. If this is indeed what Prospero thought, then it would shine new light on his character as a clever politician. The idea that The Tempest has political implications was brought up in the lecture. It has been suggested before that Prospero is a political figure, he lost his kingdom due to his love for books, and he is bend on getting his kingdom back using magic he learned from those books. He does it by putting his enemies at his mercy, then play the good guy by helping and forgiving them. He is attacking them through their sense of guilt, and making them willingly give back what they took away from him. The marriage between Miranda and Ferdinand is just a tool for him to build a relationship with the king of Naples, therefore strengthening his rule in Milan. This interpretation would turn the story from a fairy tale to a political story, where the character of Prospero is not acting according to his good will but out of deep calculation.

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