Prospero is a man who struggles with his humanity. As a leader and father he is dichotomous – equally judicious and nai?? ve. His exile from Milan is proof of his inadequacy as a Duke, but the loyalty demonstrated by his devoted companion Gonzalo as he saved him from death, suggests that he is also worthy of allegiance. As a father to Miranda and master to Caliban and Ariel, Prospero is equally manipulative and compassionate.
Within the scenes of The Tempest, and the historical events narrated by Prospero, we watch him metamorphose from self-absorbed and over-critical to someone coming to terms with his own failings, able to forgive others’ transgressions and relinquish his dependence on magic to control others.
His emotional transformation at the play’s culmination is one of reparation and personal growth. What sets Prospero apart from the other characters in The Tempest and those seeking revenge in other of Shakespeare’s plays is his ultimate penitence. The positive attributes of his personality enable a powerful transformation.
His use of control becomes a window to his auspicious inner qualities, represented by their outward manifestations of ascendancy on those who he protects. Consider his love for Miranda exhibited in his careful selection of a mate and his attempt to portray Miranda as an incomparable treasure to Ferdinand. However controlling this appears today, historically a man of his status was expected to ally his children in a marriage of appropriate or better social standing. We also know that growing up on a desolate island, Miranda has no previous experience with men or falling in love and that the only other man she knew attempted to violate her.
Throughout The Tempest there is a theme of lessons learned, presenting the characters the potential for spiritual growth. For Prospero two lessons prove influential in his transformation. Most significantly, the twelve years on the island is designed to teach him to face his faults. Intrinsically Prospero is a good man, yet his consumption by the selfish pursuit of intellectual and spiritual education leads to his great maladies. He is self-indulged as witnessed in his excessive pursuit of scholarly edification at the expense of his dukedom.
Being isolated on the island allows him to attain everything that he desired – uninterrupted pursuit of enlightenment. Yet, still in his character we find a man as colored by flaws as he is by assets. He is arrogant in his relations with others and dominates everyone from Ariel to the King of Naples. He is capricious, demonstrated by his creation and enjoyment of the wedding masque while forgetting that his life was presently endangered. He is vindictive, proven by elaborate plots for revenge on those who betray him, yet naively trusting in questionable figures like Antonio and Caliban, who both attempt to kill him.
The greater underlying lesson is underscored by secondary lessons, such as when Prospero realizes that he has taken his plot for vengeance too far. Prospero has held hatred and revenge in his heart since his “banishment” to the island, all the while conspiring to reclaim what he considers his own. Ironically, one wonders if Antonio and Prospero are indeed the same animal – complex political creatures surviving in the “realism” of politics? However, Ariel reminds him that he has gone too far with his charade.
Prospero realizes that the usurped has now become the usurper, creating a twin-like imagery as we see the men as truly brothers, identical in their deeds. The deviation rests in Prospero’s move towards reconciliation. We are convinced that Antonio is unrepentable because he “made a sinner of his own memory”. Both brothers created and shaped his own reality to suit his means. Does Prospero perhaps hold Antonio’s secret as a concession in recognizing his own motives led him astray? Keeping the murder plot in confidence places Prospero again at a superior moral position, rather then being on equal ground with Antonio.