The tempest is an intellectually challenging play that explores a wide range of significant issues, such as power and control and versions of reality. Shakespeare uses a large variety of language techniques and dramatic devices such as imagery and music to help us fully understand the true meaning of The Tempest. Power and control is shown through Prospero and Antonio’s complex relationship. Prospero was the rightful duke of Milan until Antonio stole his role, which is the main reason for Prospero’s need to have power over everyone and everything. When Prospero says, “Lie there my art. He is referring to his cloak, which is just another instrument of his ultimate power. The cloak acts as a symbol the power he has over other beings, which reside on “his” island. The “art” in the quote is referring to his magical power. The Tempest abounds in such imagery, which helps the audience understand the power struggles between many of the characters. For example, Prospero describes his brother Antonio to Miranda as “ The ivy which had hid my princely trunk and sucked my venture out on’t” Here Antonio’s gradual destruction of Prospero’s power is conveyed by comparing Antonio to ivy, which covers and weakens a mighty tree.
Power and control in The Tempest is an extremely important issue, as it explores ideas that the audience feels they can relate to. The issue of power and control is very significant as it plays a major role in shaping the entire play and especially the ending in which Prospero forgives Antonio for usurping his rightful dukedom. Prospero says, “I must uneasy make, lest too light winning” when he sees Miranda and Ferdinand start to fall in love. This is an aside to the audience where the audience sees another example of Prospero’s craving for power and the need to control everything around him, even his own daughter’s romance.
As a result of Prospero’s manipulation of their romance the two lovers fall deeply in love, but still does not make it acceptable to abuse his power. Another significant issue in The Tempest is that things are not always what they seem, and that is why illusions and magic play such a significant role in the way in which Prospero controls the other characters and has higher power. The play begins with a shipwreck but in fact it is just an illusion that Prospero has created to gather the other characters onto the island. Most things that the characters experience on the island seem to be real but are in fact just fiction.
Characters are unaware that Prospero is controlling them through his magic yet Shakespeare employs dramatic irony, as the audience knows he is just abusing his power. Most characters can’t trust the evidence of their eyes. Ariel’s music plays a significant role in controlling other characters through magic and illusion, except this is a result of Prospero’s command. Music is an ironic juxtaposition between music and action. Although characters feel it is an angelic sound, the audience knows it is just another way of Prospero’s control.
Ariel sings, “ Come unto these yellow sands…” To Ferdinand to lead him to the other side of the island, so that Prospero can use him to his advantage. Perspective plays a large role in The Tempest, and is one of the most significant issues in the play. The island is over ruled by magic, and it clouds the ability of all the new arrivals to tell the difference between reality and the magical illusions they see. The outlook of the individuals also tempers reality. Gonzalo is relentlessly positive, and so sees the island as beautiful.
Ariel revels in the island’s naturalness, while Sebastian and Antonio see it as an unwelcoming place because of their negative outlooks. Reality is clouded by magic, and this state is only further influenced by personal perspective over each individual’s perceptions. Ephemeral nature of the visions Prospero has created for the other characters, which also highlights the transient nature of human existence. “A living drollery now I believe that there are unicorns…” This quote is said by Sebastian, one of the characters who sees different versions of reality throughout the play.
This quote means that once fantasy is proven true, and then you can no longer trust what appears to be reality. Thus the play effectively conveys several ideas about the issue of power and control. Shakespeare dramatises the ways in which power can fracture families but more importantly that struggles for power can be resolved. Through the use of magic and illusion Shakespeare manages to create a mystical world where all is not what it seems, inspiring his audiences to think about the issue of reality and perspective.