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Tempest summary at eNotes

Nobility of the Tempest

The Tempest, though far from lacking dramatic or human interest, has something in its literary spirit of the nature of a clear and solemn vision. For instance, Prospero, the great enchanter, is altogether the opposite of the vulgar magician who populates other of Shakespeare's plays, as well as works of many of his contemporaries. With command over the elemental powers, which study has brought him, Prospero possesses a moral grandeur and a command over himself, in spite of his occasional fits of intellectual impatience and involuntary abstraction. He looks 'down' on life, and sees 'through' it, though he will not refuse to take his part in it. Here, the supernatural powers of the world attend to and obey their ruler, mankind, (or at least initiated representatives of it, such as Prospero). The persons in this play, while remaining real and living, are conceived in a more abstract manner, more as 'archetypes' than in any other of Shakespeare's works. Prospero, for instance, is the highest wisdom and moral attainment; Gonzalo is a humorous incarnation of common-sense; all that is meanest and most despicable appears in the characters of the wretched conspirators, (Alonso, Sebastian, Antonio, etc). Miranda, whose name seems to suggest wonder, is an almost elemental being, framed in the purest and simplest type of womanhood, yet made substantial by contrast with Ariel, who is an unbodied joy, too much a creature of light and air to know either human affection or sorrow. Caliban, (a name formed from the word 'cannibal'), stands at the other extreme, with all the elements in him - appetites, intellect, imagination - out of which mankind emerges into early civilization, albeit with a moral nature which remains malignant and gross. Over all presides Prospero like a providence; and the spirit of reconciliation, of forgiveness, harmonizing the contentions of men, appears in The Tempest in a noble, expansive manner. To this extent, The Tempest resembles and surpasses other Shakespearean works such as Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale, as a seriocomic exposition on the ability of the majesty and mystery of the world's primordial forces to overcome the similarly primordial passions of humanity. Majesty and mystery, Shakespeare seems to be saying, lay at the core of the passions of man as much as do fear and loathing; if the former can be recognized and controlled the bard goes on, then so can the latter.

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