The Tempest’s Power
Lust for Power Any good story starts with an observation: an observation of the silent neighbor, the infamously loud aunt at the family reunion or the mysterious stranger, smiling at nothing. William Shakespeare always wrote of these observations. His characters in each of his plays represent some part of society or desire lying within society. “The Tempest”, Shakespeare’s farewell to playwriting, contrasts the idea of civilization and raw nature pertaining to the desire for power, and the greed that overwhelms a person to get that power.
Does greed and power override the rules and structure of civilization? Is it inescapable? These universal desires bring two seemingly contrasting characters, Prospero and Caliban, closer than any other pair of characters in the play. “The Tempest” centers on the loss and gain of power. Prospero is stripped of his power in civilization, and thus uses his magical powers in order to return to nature and regain some kind of leadership role.
His deliberate involvement in the shipwreck, the overthrowing of Caliban, and the romance between his own daughter Miranda and Ferdinand, shows that he is attempting to regain the status that he had lost. Prospero, on the outside, seems to be the all-knowing ruler. However, his unique magical gifts give him undefeatable power to wreak vengeance on his enemies. Greed and vengeance as his motives shows that corruption cannot be fled from.
It complicates the relationship between Caliban and Prospero for although Prospero claims to own his savage his savage speaks not like one who is owned. Caliban feels the flip side of the power struggle. He is the defeated. The reader, however, is distracted from this because Caliban is made out to be a villain, and a savage. The reader hears of his attempts to rape Miranda and he is first introduced as a “tortoise” and often referred to as a beast or monster with a deformed body.
But, interestingly, despite Caliban’s deformed body and animal like appearance he possesses remarkable eloquence that gives him power. Prospero, even with his velvety language, only equals Caliban in eloquence. In that sense, they are equals, even though Caliban is being unwillingly controlled by Prospero. It complicates the relationship between Caliban and Prospero for although Prospero claims to own this “savage,” his “savage” speaks as if he is not owned. This shows that power cannot be escaped, that greed manifests itself wherever it is taken.