The theme of ‘freedom’ and ‘providence’ in Shakespeare ‘The Tempest’


The Tempest which is certainly much more than spectacle or story of a magician’s supernatural dominance over human beings and spirits is one of the greatest plays of Shakespeare. It has considerable suspense. The conflict that makes drama can be seen in Prospero, and its resolution comes, not so much of physical, as of moral and mental suffering. The two functions of the rational soul, speculative and, ratical, at last fuse. The former has prepared ‘the mynde and (made) it apt to receive virtue’ the latter wills and acts virtuously. ‘Degree’ is preserved: reason, the distinctive attribute of man, triumphs over passion. When Ariel, who locks human sympathy but who recognizes suffering when he sees it, reports the sorrowful plight of Gonzalo, and the penitence and grief of Alonso, the ‘enemy...inveterate’, Prospero meets the challenge.”





Prospero has achieved virtue, and the virtue seems to be magnanimity. ‘the wonderful effects’ of which, ‘appears principally in three points the second of which is duties towards enemies, against whom generosities will in no wise suffer a man to practice or consent to any wickedness...’

Throughout the play, we hear the note of a force superior to and within whose compass man’s reason and virtue operate: “At the end of the first scene, when death seems imminent to members of the court party, Gonzalo exclaims “The wills above be done! Near the close of the play he gives credit to the ‘golds’ for having brought him and his party to the island, and with his comment raises the question whether all the events of the past-twelve years have not been parts of a Providential plan, between these two pronouncements. Prospero makes acknowledgment to ‘Providence divine’ for having brought him and his daughter safely ashore. Ariel associates the ‘Powers’ with the maintenance of justice in the world, and Ferdinand lays claim to Miranda through ‘immortal Providence’. Relative to this ‘Providence’ with its continuity and greatness, man, even with his reason, ‘is such stuff/As dreams are made on, and (his) little life is rounded with, a sleep’.”

Another recurrent theme in the play is that of freedom. Ariel uses the word ‘liberty’ on his first appearance, and the last command be receives opens the final line of the drama: ‘Be free’. Just before his release, however, Prospero requests he should set Caliban and his companions free. Ferdinand can find liberty even in slavery if, from his prison, ‘he may see Miranda daily, and he compares his willingness to be her husband to that of bondage to be free. The freedom of Arid and Caliban, as we might expect, follows closely Prospero’s freeing himself from the passion for revenge hat has ridden him and his finding his true self in the rule of reason. The relations of the servant and of the slave to Prospero change with this event they are no longer in revolt, Caliban’s sense of values is transformed to such a degree that he can exclaim.

‘Flow fine my master is!’ and wonder at his own foolishness of a moment before in mistaking Stephano for a god. Thus master, servant, and slave, all find freedom in the degree of especially of rule that nature assigns them.

Another recurring theme in “the play is that of chastity.”“In an age when ‘natural’ conduct was fashionably associated with sexual promiscuity, chastity alone could stand as the chief function of temperance and there is considerable emphasis on this particular restraint in The Tempest. The practice of good magic required it, but in this it is again merely the practical application of civility. Prospero twice, and Juno again, warm Ferdinand of the absolute necessity for it, and Ferdinand’s ability to make pure beauty ‘above the ardour of this liver’ is in the strongest, possible contrast to Caliban’s straightforward natural just for it. The unchaste designs of Stephano arouse Prospero’s anger also: it is as if,, he wore conducting with magically purified books and rod, the kind of experiment which depended for its success on the absolute purity, of all concerned; and indeed, so far as his aims were a dynastic marriage and the regeneration of the noble, this was so”.

Self-discipline also is an important theme in The Tempest. The self-discipline of the magician is the self-discipline of the prince. It was the object of the good ruler to make his people good by his efforts and that he might do so it was considered necessary for him to acquire learning, and to mid himself ‘of those troublous affections that intemperate minds feel”. The personal requirements of mage and prince are the same, and Prospero labours no regain a worldly as well as a heavenly power. Like James I in the flattering description, he ‘standeth invested with that triplicate which in great veneration was described to the ancient Hermes, the power and fortune of a King, the knowledge and illumination of a priest, and the learning and universalities of a Philosopher.”

Learning is another major theme in the play. This differentiates Miranda and Caliban, for Miranda is capable of learning while Caliban is not. We are also given a plan of the place of learning in the dispositions of providence; “Prospero, like Adam, fall from his kingdom by an inordinate thirst for knowledge; but learning is a great aid to virtue, the road by which we may love and imitate God, and ‘repair the ruins of our first parents’, and by its means he is’ enabled to return. The solicitude which accompanied Adam and Eve when ‘the world was before them went also with Prospero and Miranda when they set out in their ‘rotten carcass of a butt’
“By foul play, as thou say’st, were we heav’d thence,
But blessedly help lither’

He had achieved the great object of learning, and regained a richer heritage. But he is not learned in only this rather abstract sense; he is the learned prince like Boethius, he had been a natural philosopher, and had learnt from philosophy that to hate the wicked were against reasons.


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