Comparison of the Tempest and Forbidden Planet

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Jamie Roberts
ENGL 1000P2
Prof. B. Johnson
8 February, 2010
Morbius’ Fatal Folly

As pointed out by Merrell Knighten in his essay called The Triple Paternity of Forbidden Planet, the main difference between Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the 1956 science fiction adaptation Forbidden Planet (referred to as FP) is the use and control of power. In The Tempest, Prospero knows what power he holds through the use of his books and spells, and ultimately uses these powers to restore order to the island. However, in forbidden Planet, Morbius’ powers are unknown to him and ultimately lead to his demise. This essay will show how Morbius may be considered a more disastrous character than Prospero due to his lack of realization of the power which he possesses, compare and contrast the difference/similarities between the parallel characters from the film and the play, and show how the science fiction genre and Freudian psychology play a large role in the culmination of Forbidden Planet.

In contrast with Prospero, the character of Dr. Morbius does not possess the knowledge of his power. Prospero uses his magic to have Caliban and Ariel act out his will, whereas Morbius uses the Id-monster unknowingly to perform the most heinous of acts. As pointed out in Campos’ article, The Tempest’s Prospero uses the power he possesses to order the chaos, whereas in FP, Morbius’ power is used to provoke that chaos (Campos, 288). It is as though Prospero’s knowledge of his power is his savior because he only uses the magic to restore that which was taken from him by his usurping brother Antonio. Once Prospero had completed the task of conjuring up all the inhabitants of the island to his cell, he vowed to “drown [his] book” (Shakespeare, 5.1.57), revealing that he will rid himself of all magical power after what is rightfully his is in his belonging once again – namely his dukedom. Morbius had no such chance at redemption because of the fact that his power was unknown to him until it was too late. Morbius only realizes that the monster, which had taken so many lives on the planet, was of his doing when it is melting the 26 inch thick Krel metal door in the lab. The Id-monster is actually attempting to enter the Krel lab to kill Commander Adams and Altaira. Commander Adams was the first to realize that the ravenous monster threatening to obliterate all life except that of Morbius was actually the innermost feelings the isolated doctor. Morbius would never knowingly murder his daughter, but because his unconscious mind was able to realize that the relationship he once had with Altaira would never be the same, it sent the Id-monster to obliterate her. Altaira’s new found love for Commander Adams strips Morbius of his once innocent little girl. It seemed that Morbius’ subconscious felt that if Altaira was not going to be his anymore, then she would not be anybody’s. The Id-monster is once again, doing Morbius’ will, just as when it killed the other members of Morbius’ expedition, the Id-monster attempts to take the life of Altaira. The fact that Commander Adams is the new love of Altaira’s life is threatening to Morbius, and when Altaira says to her father that she will leave with the Commander and return to earth, the Id-monster immediately begins to wreak havoc on the house and threatens the lives of all within. Morbius then, much like Prospero, shouts at the molten door that he will give the power up. This seems enough for his subconscious mind and the Krel machine shuts down, making the Id-monster disappear, but ultimately kills Morbius. As pointed out by Knighten in his article, “Morbius… is a more tragic protagonist, a Prospero perhaps without the [Tempest’s] control of his Caliban, his id, his most primal urges” (Knighten, Para. 4).

In Forbidden Planet, many of the characters are obviously close adaptations of characters from The Tempest. For Prospero and Miranda, the film inserts Dr. Morbius and his daughter Altaira, who instead of being...
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