The Tempest: The Interplay between Time, Power, and Supernatural In The Tempest, William Shakespeare portrays multiple themes that are highlighted as the play progresses. He includes the recurring themes of time, struggle for power, and the supernatural. Prospero, and his servant, Ariel, magically conduct a tremendous storm, which forces the shipmates to land on his island. Prospero, the characters on the shipwreck, and Caliban, and Ariel spend most of the play reacting to this event.
Caliban’s character represents a struggle to regain his power, while Ariel has a particular influence on the subsequent plot that relates to the themes of time and the supernatural. A consistent theme throughout The Tempest, is Ariel’s significant role of carrying out Prospero’s powerful mission. Ariel’s presence provides a drama that is calming and mystical. When Ariel is first introduced in beginning of the play he says to Prospero: All hail, great master! Grave sir, hail! I come To answer thy best pleasure. Be’t to fly, To swim, to dive into the fire, to ride On the curled clouds to thy strong bidding task
Ariel and all his quality (The Tempest 1. 2. 224-228). Ariel’s courageous character introduces the concept of magic and supernatural to the play. His presence creates a major storm on King Alonso’s boat. Ariel says, “I boarded the King’s ship; now on the beak, / Now in the waist, the deck, in every cabin, /I flamed amazement” (1. 2. 232-234). By generating this storm, Ariel powerfully influences Alonso’s journey and the ultimate arrival of Ferdinand. The storm was conjured up in such a magical way that not a soul was harmed, and “Not a hair perished” (1. . 258). In addition, the shipmates clothing remained fresh, even after the chaotic storm. Throughout the play, as Ariel puts Prospero’s magic into action, he appears in different forms and can even make himself invisible to the public eye. In act three, during the banquet, Ariel even presents himself in the form of a harpy, a loathsome creature with wings. Ariel also displays the use of magic when Caliban complains to Stephano about how he is tormented by Prospero. During this scene, Ariel, in his invisible state, calls Caliban a liar, tricking Caliban, and Stephano that Trinculo is the man behind the insults.
As the play develops, Ariel enlightens and impacts the characters with his melodious songs. Towards the end of the play, Alonso makes note and comments that the background music is so powerful that it is almost a form of communication. Ariel uses the power of music to guide the characters in the direction towards fulfilling Prospero’s goal. In act three, scene two, Ariel’s music causes Caliban, Stephano, and Trinculo to be distracted from their conversation and leads them to follow after the music. By exhibiting Prospero’s magical commands to perfection, Ariel serves a supernatural role in The Tempest.
One of the major themes of The Tempest is the importance of timing. Prospero conducts his scheme in a very systematic manner. Likewise, Ariel displays an aptitude for time in that he is in charge of maintaining Prospero’s schedule. It is manifested early on that Prospero pays close attention, and displays a consciousness towards time. For example, Prospero asks Ariel, “What is the time o’th’ day? ” and Ariel replies, “past the mid season” (1. 2. 283-284). Prospero then explains to Ariel that the task needs to be completed within a specific timeframe. Prospero says, “The time ‘twixt six and now/ Must by us both be spent most preciously” (1. . 285-286). Ariel repeatedly scouts the island, making sure Prospero’s magical plan occurs on schedule and reports back to him. It is striking that Ariel seems to always be present at critical times. In the middle of the play, when Antonio and Sebastian are planning to kill Gonzolo and Alonso, Ariel’s timely presence prevents their plan from following through. He puts Alonso, and Gonzolo to sleep and magically wakes Gonzolo right on time when his and king Alonso’s lives are at risk. Ariel whispers to Gonzolo in the form of song, “…If of life you keep a care, /Shake off slumber and beware. Awake, awake” (2. 1. 347-349)! Ariel alarms Gonzolo to immediately wake up, and ultimately saves his and the king’s lives. Prospero and Ariel regard the essential aspect of time to complete their overall mission as planned. A significant theme of The Tempest is Caliban’s constant struggle for power. Caliban, Prospero’s slave, is a dangerous, unique, monster- like creature. He spends much time in the beginning of the play longing for how the island used to be, when his mother, Sycorax, used to control the island. When Prospero initially resides on the island, he takes over and torments Caliban ith slave work. Caliban demonstrates this desire to be in charge of the island when he says, “This island’s mine by Sycorax, my mother,/ Which thou tak’st from me. ” (1. 2. 396-397). Caliban bemoans the loss of his power on the island and wishes to regain his status. Caliban’s influence on the plot is to directly undermine Prospero. In act four, when Caliban meets Stephono and Trinculo, he becomes drunk and instantly plots to put an end to Prospero’s life. This is illustrated in Caliban’s speech to Stephano and Trinculo when he encourages them to kill Prospero. This is the mouth o’ th’ cell. No noise, and enter. / Do that good mischief which may make this island/ Thine own forever, and I, thy Caliban,…” (4. 1. 241-243). His regret of his lost power leads him to try to regain it in a vicious manner. As Stephen Corry states regarding Caliban’s plan, “He’s desperate to get his new clownish mates to kill Prospero by knifing, battering, impaling, braining, or more imaginatively, knocking a nail into his head” (“The Olympics – Shakespeare”).
Luckily for Prospero, Ariel distracts the fools with a glistening clothing line and stops Caliban’s plans before they are carried out. In fact, Ariel’s use of timing is the very thing that undermines Caliban’s quest for power. It is in this part of The Tempest that one can witness how the themes of time and power connect. In summary, the themes of time, supernatural, and Caliban’s struggle for power, play an essential role to The Tempest. As the play unfolds, Shakespeare introduces us to the concept of the mystery in life.
So often we think we are in control of our lives; however, this is not always the case. Time after time, there may be forces that we are unaware of that heavily impact the course of our lives and ultimate fate. Works Cited: Corry, Stephen. “The Olympics – Shakespeare, Nelson and Noises Ringing Hollow. ” – Survival Huff Post United Kingdom, 27 July 2012. Web. 09 Oct. 2013. Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine. The Tempest. New York: Washington Square, 2004. Print.