Treatment of Magic in The Tempest Dipanjan Ghosh
In Shakespeare's The Tempest, the themes of justice and forgiveness are essential to the meaning of the play. The main character, Prospero, is the dealer of justice and forgiveness. Thus, his actions reflect Shakespeare's message behind reconciliation. The play explores these themes through Prospero's mercy in spite of being wronged, his treatment of his enemies, and his ultimate objective to restore harmony, in this case through forgiveness. With the character of Prospero, Shakespeare manages to create an illusion of magic with the purpose of ultimately revealing the true magic of compassion.
Prospero intends to bring his brother to justice for, through "foul play", stealing his thrown and leaving him and baby Miranda to die by stranding them in the ocean. Prospero seeks to right the wrongs that have been dealt to him by reclaiming his thrown. The tempest at the beginning, which the play is named after, obviously holds very important significance. The treacherous storm represents the torment Prospero has lived through, and his desire to make them suffer just as they made him suffer. Yet he chooses not to kill them in the tempest, but leaves them unharmed at the end. Such acts of mercy from Prospero prove that though he uses his magic to intimidate, in the end that is all he does, for he is compassionate at his core.
Prospero's treatment of those who have wronged him speaks volumes for his nature as well as the themes of justice and reconciliation. Although Prospero has his enemies shipwrecked and at the mercy of the sea, he chooses not to kill them or make them truly suffer. He seeks to create an illusion of justice from which they will learn. This illusion of Justice is seen when he makes Alonso believe that he has lost his "dear son Ferdinand". Even though Ferdinand is not truly dead, the illusion which Alonso is under evokes very real suffering, as evident when he cries, "I'll seek him deeper than e'er plummet sounded/And with him there lie mudded".
However, the fact that Prospero did not truly kill his son makes redemption possible, for once the illusion has been lifted, Alonso has learnt his lesson and harmony has been restored. When Ferdinand is found alive, Prospero creates an illusion of a miracle. Yet the true miracle is not his "rebirth," but the forgiveness of all their sins. The theme of forgiveness is just as vital to Shakespeare's play as that of justice. The tempest and the calm after it are the ultimate symbols of justice and reconciliation in the piece. Shakespeare seems to lead the audience into the illusion that Prospero's power is his ability to use magic and control nature. However, when he renounces his magic at the end, it is evident that Prospero's true power lies in his ability to control his vengeful impulses and reconcile his worst enemies.
Both the distance and the connections between the real and the illusory world generate an ambivalence that is strengthened by the ambiguous subjectivity of the island. The island is not wholly fantastical occupying an imaginary space; it is situated in the Mediterranean somewhere along the Naples-Tunis sea route yet reenacts a recent ship wreck off the Bermuda islands in the Atlantic, thus complicating its geographical co-ordinates. Nor does it conform to the topography of the region: it is an enchanted isle peopled with unearthly, sub-human beings belonging to the realm of fairy tales and folklore. More significant is the fact that it does not seem to have a stable natural surrounding. Its sweet air; which is subtle, tender, and delicate invigorates Ferdinand and Adrian; Gonzalo, enamoured by the 'lush and lusty' vegetation, longs to establish a 'commonwealth' there. For Caliban it is a treasure trove of fresh-water springs, berries, pignuts, crabs, marmoset, filberts and scamels. But for Antonio and Sebastian the same ground is 'tawny', 'perfumed...
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