The Illusion of Freedom as Seen in The Tempest
The physical manifestation of free-will being suppressed on the island can be found in Prospero’s two servants, Ariel and Caliban. They both give their labor and services to Prospero as the result of being indebted to him or as punishment. Ariel’s freedom is held hostage as Prospero still needs him to help him accomplish his plans for the group of people who sent him to the island in the first place:
“Is there more toil? Since thou dost give me pains,
Let me remember thee what thou hast promised,
Which is not yet performed me”
Prospero constantly reminds Ariel that he is the one who freed him from his prison, putting him in his place when he pleas for his freedom:
“Thou liest, malignant thing! Hast thou forgot
The foul witch Sycorax, who with age and envy
Was grown into a hoop? Hast thou forgot her?”
Caliban performs much of the manual labor and undesirable labor for Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Prospero states that he had tried to educate Caliban and was kind to him, until Caliban attempted to rape Miranda.
“Thou most lying slave,
Whom stripes may move, not kindness! I have used thee,
Filth as thou art, with human care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell till thou didst seek to violate
The honor of my child”
Prospero states that Caliban responds better to his whip rather than his kindness. The whip marks on his back resemble “a portion of the surface long in proportion to its breadth, or uniform width, and differing in color or texture from the adjacent parts” like a tiger.
Miranda herself states that him coming on to her wasn’t why he is in service to them, but rather that he was born a slave.
[…] “I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other: when thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble like
A thing most brutish, I endow’d thy purposes
With words that made them known. But thy vile race,
Though thou didst learn, had that in’t which good natures
Could not abide to be with; therefore wast thou
Deservedly confined into this rock,
Who hadst deserved more than a prison” (1.2. 351-361)
Miranda attempted to educate him, for Caliban would “talk volubly, inarticulately and incoherently; to chatter, jabber, prattle (gabble), but his nature bound him to being an uncivilized slave, so Miranda ceased teaching him. The main question here is why do Ariel and Caliban allow themselves to be pushed around like this? Why do they hand over their freedom to an exiled man on a deserted island? Ariel is a spirit, why doesn’t he just leave the island after realizing that Prospero is just using him? What is stopping Caliban from just moving elsewhere on the island, away from the scorn and labor of Prospero and Miranda? Despite Ariel constantly asking for his freedom or Caliban talking back to both Prospero and Miranda, we can conclude that they are both intimidated of Prospero’s magic. They are physically afraid of the punishment that will ensue if they go against the wishes of Prospero, even if it means giving up their free will and freedom.
The emotional suppression of free will finds its way in that of Miranda, Prospero’s daughter, and Ferdinand, Prince of Naples and son of Alonso. Miranda has only seen two men in her life, her father and Caliban. When Ferdinand shows up, she is instantly stuck with the feeling of love and wanting, which is expected giving the company she has kept during her stay on the island.
“I might call him
A thing divine, for nothing so natural
I ever saw so noble”
Ferdinand believes everyone has died on the ship, leaving him as the only survivor. In his grief, he finds true happiness, Miranda. She longs for the freedom of a man’s company that is not her father, while he longs for companionship after losing those closest to him. It is quite the set up for a relationship between the two of them, they have both made their decisions and are willing to achieve what they want together. However, this chance meeting between two lovers is almost completely ruined in that it is all part of Prospero’s plan. The constant manipulation and planning has allowed Prospero to make anyone play into his hands, even his own daughter. This dynamic of choosing to fall in love and being set up from the start could be seen as an allegory of arranged marriages where there is no choice in the matter vs. that of getting married due to genuine love and attraction.
The man who makes all of this possible is Prospero, our magical protagonist and the driving force of the plot. The initial storm during the start of act 1 was created by Prospero, demonstrating to the audience that Prospero’s magic is a real force and should be a cause for concern. He also demonstrates his powers by torturing and humiliating his servants, manipulating the nobles, and arranging the marriageof his daughter to the Prince of Naples. Prospero has complete control over the situation, everyone is none the wiser to his tricks and influences throughout all of the events of the play. It is suggested that Prospero represents a skilled director, or even Shakespeare himself. He uses his “magic” to manipulate characters into doing what he wants them do with perfect execution. Prospero getting rid of free will in the play is an allegory for how playwrights have complete control over their actors and that every plot point hinges on their every written word. Prospero robs each character of their free will and freedom while trying so hard to gain his back.
It is the natural desire of man to be free, to be in charge of the decisions we make and the consequences that come from those decisions. Free will is what allows us to feel pride in our accomplishments; It is a key component of what allows us to function as a species. We need this in our lives so much that we are willing to fight for it. It is Shakespeare’s intention to show how the world of literature and stage performance differs from that of the real world. He is in control of everything that is happening on stage, the actors don’t dictate what their motivations and morals are, they play their part. A reader could view this as a form of argument between the idea that free will is something that exists and we need it vs. everything is predetermined already and we have no say in the matter. Prospero and Shakespeare forces these characters together and decide how their motivations and actions will best suit them in order to get what they want, freedom to do what they please.