Abusing Power in the Tempest
Connelly 1 Jordan Connelly Prof Livingston English 1302 28 April, 2014 Abusing Power in The Tempest William Shakespeare uses many different elements in The Tempest to convey his different views on things. For example, he uses gender roles to show class division. He also explores the topics of love and how that has an effect on people, and how the environment can change the way people act. All of these concepts are necessary to understand, but they are only part of the big picture. In order to fully understand Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the reader needs the presence of power among people and also within themselves.
Without the element of power, none of the other elements matter. In The Tempest, William Shakespeare dramatizes the exercise of power and conveys his ideas on the responsibilities of power through the characters and the relationships between them. One way Shakespeare shows the exercise of power in The Tempest is through titles of the different characters. Prospero is the main example of this. He is very powerful as the Duke of Milan, but his books about the liberal arts are more important to him than his Dukedom. After being usurped and sent off the island, he declares himself the leader of the island he lands on due o the power of his books, even though Caliban settled on the island before Prospero. The power of this title Prospero gave himself is enough to make Caliban his slave of the island, as well as Ariel. Prospero rules over these two, and has them do whatever he wants them to via the power of these books, and “Among those books was one about an art, not usually numbered among the 1 Connelly 2 liberal arts—an art, which, as Caliban says: ‘is of such power, It would control my dam’s god Setebos And make a vassal of him’ ”(Connor). Shakespeare may have represented this forced ower role as an allusion to the exploration of the New World during the 16th century, and his thoughts on the expedition. Shakespeare shows the exercise of power though title with Stephano the butler. Stephano is nothing in regards to holding any sort of power, but once he meets up with Trinculo and Caliban, he becomes a God to Caliban. Hating Prospero, Caliban says if Stephano can kill Prospero, then Stephano can become the King of the island and Caliban promises to be his servant. Knowing what power he could hold with the title of a King, Stephano agrees to kill Prospero.
Stephano does not know who Prospero is, yet he decides to act upon Prospero because of what Caliban said about him, and because Stephano can wield the new title of King Stephano. Shakespeare conveys the message of how severely craving the want to be in power can be, and how easy it is to have disregard for the people blocking the way to power. Shakespeare also shows through Antonio that greed can take over someone’s will and morals in order to assume a title of high regards. Seeing that Prospero is not fulfilling his duty as the Duke, Antonio successfully plots to usurp his own brother in order to gain the title of Duke of
Milan: “The government I cast upon my brother, And to my state grew stranger, being transported, And rapt in secret studies” (Shakespeare). The greed from the power of having the title of the Duke of Milan makes Antonio betray his own brother and sends him and his daughter off to die. This is another example Shakespeare uses in order to convey his thoughts about how easy it is to become consumed in the thought of being in power, and to become oblivious of the lives that could be altered, destroyed, or even ended in the path to power. 2 Connelly 3 Shakespeare shows through different characters in The Tempest that negativity is nevitable to people who seek out power. First, he shows through Antonio that anyone who wants power will do whatever they can in order to obtain it, even if it means betraying your own brother. Next, he shows through the relationship between Prospero and Caliban that once in power, there will be someone who wants you out of it. Caliban hates Prospero, but is too scared and weak to take over himself, so he tries to aid Stephano into killing Prospero. Shakespeare develops these steps in different places in The Tempest in different orders to show that it does not atter who you are or what you do, there is a cycle that is continuous because people will always want to be in power or want the person in power to be taken out of it. This is another allusion to what was going on in the government in England during that time period, such as the rioting and Queen Elizabeth signing the death warrant to have her cousin, Queen Mary, beheaded. Shakespeare also conveys the fact that a person with a title must be responsible of their power, and not abuse it. A leader must care for the title they have, and act on it. Shakespeare shows the result if a leader has disregard for their title through Prospero.
Although he was Duke of Milan, he was more involved and interested in his books. Because of his lack of caring for his title, Prospero is usurped of his position, banished from Milan, and sent out on “A rotten carcass of a butt, not rigg’d, Nor tackle, sail, nor mast” to die (Shakespeare). Along with a regard for position, Shakespeare believes that a person in power must not have any disregard for their subjects. In The Tempest, “Prospero treats Caliban like a servant—in fact, worse than many Renaissance servants” during the time period Shakespeare was believed to rite the play, which was a very low standard to fail (Shin). Because of Prospero’s maltreatment of his subject, Caliban loathes Prospero, and would rather have anyone else be his leader. 3 Connelly 4 Shakespeare believed that the leaders of his time did not treat their subjects with any decency or respect, and conveys his thoughts in his plays. The Tempest is a play about many different concepts, but without the concept of power, all of the other concepts would be void. William Shakespeare dramatized the exercise of power as a parallel to how power was being exercised during his time. Shakespeare also suggests that ith great power comes great responsibility, and without responsibility, power means nothing. To convey both of these ideas, Shakespeare uses the characters to represent the different classes and type of people and leaders during his time. Works Cited Connor, W. Robert. “We Must Call The Classics Before A Court Of Shipwrecked Men. ” Classical World 104. 4 (2011): 483-493. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. Shin, Hiewon. “Single Parenting, Homeschooling: Prospero, Caliban, Miranda. ” SEL Studies In English Literature, 1500-1900 48. 2 (2008): 373-393. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. 4