The Role of Loyalty in Shakespeare’s The Tempest

Throughout the narrative of William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest, the idea of loyalty is discussed in different scenarios and different situations that align with each separate facet of the plot. While this principle is regularly utilized within Shakespeare’s many works, the characters of The Tempest provide a unique variation to the discussion. Rather than having allegiance to people each character demonstrates their loyalty to a concept. Shifting the definition of loyalty also allows for an examination of each character’s’ motives and personality which is particularly exemplified in three stories of Ferdinand, Caliban, and Ariel as they develop through the plot. Shakespeare’s choice to depict allegiance to concepts rather than people illustrates how loyalty is simply a construct that is manipulated to fit the morals and ambitions of each individual.

Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of loyalty to a concept is in Ferdinand’s devotion to love. While one could argue that his actions represent a loyalty to Miranda (which can be a difficult distinction to make: devotion to love or devotion to a lover), Ferdinand clearly demonstrates his loyalty to the concept in that he is never subservient to Miranda; such that even when Miranda begs him to cease his work, he refuses. Ferdinand’s willingness to serve the king demonstrates another aspect of his loyalty to love. As he is certainly not loyal to Prospero, Ferdinand only does the father’s bidding in order to remain loyal to his own intense desire for Miranda’s love. So while, on the surface, this character’s deference seems to act as a demonstration of loyalty to Miranda and her father, Ferdinand is instead acting upon his own ambitions and attempting, by whatever means, to gain the hand in marriage of his newfound love. By showing loyalty to the concept of love rather than an actual individual, Ferdinand is able to control his own actions in terms of his ideals and to his own betterment. While he doesn’t desire to be serving another, his is willing to make such a sacrifice in hopes creating an outlet for personal gain.

In the play, Shakespeare describes caliban as a sort of foil to Ferdinand in the sense of loyalty. While both characters prove allegiant to certain concepts, their particular motives for doing so differ immensely. Ferdinand demonstrates servitude as a sacrifice that must be made to see his ambitions into fruition. Caliban, however, is loyal only to the idea of servitude. Caliban also exemplifies a more clear representation of allegiance to a concept rather than people as he has no trouble in suddenly moving on to a new master that he has only known for a matter of minutes. While Caliban finds no moral difficulty in professing false or temporary allegiance, he never strays from the path of serving others. His devotion to maintaining his inferior stature provides a characterization of Caliban as an individual who has no desire to lead but only to gain control over his masters in a position below them. Even though Caliban remains a servant, he takes advantage of his new masters, to whom he claimed loyalty, for the ultimate goal to improve his own life.

Ariel’s story of loyalty is perhaps one of the more interesting in the play. For all throughout, he does remain loyal to the bidding of Prospero; however, Ariel’s motives run much deeper than simply pleasing his “master.” Among other things, Ariel’s question to Prospero “Do you love me master?” is direct evidence showing that he expects something in return for his service. Ariel is not working for Prospero but rather for himself; for the purpose of receiving the affection and appreciation he craves. Furthermore, Ariel’s powers likely dwarf those of Prospero as the rightful duke of Milan has never actually put on any sort of display of his own power and instead bids Ariel to perform magical deeds for him. Hence, this magical being is presumably serving to Prospero’s will in order to preserve the health of the island knowing full well that in comparison to the other men who have arrived on the island, Prospero would be the least likely to destroy its natural world. While Ariel does seem loyal to an individual, he is instead working diligently to maintain the ideals he holds most valuable: love, appreciation, and nature.

Loyalty can often be a problematic principle to fully comprehend and perform. Through the plot of his play, The Tempest, William Shakespeare provides a commentary on the subject, criticizing the superficiality of human loyalty. While a character may give the impression of demonstrating allegiance to an individual, they will never be truly loyal except to one person: themselves. It is human nature to work towards only improving one’s own life in any circumstance, often feigning loyalty to individuals in order to do so. The human race’s only devotion is to ourselves and the ideals that provide guidance and aid in achieving our ambitions, goals, and ultimate desires.