Comparing Power in The Tempest and Othello

Topics: The Tempest, Moons of Uranus, Othello Pages: 5 (1801 words) Published: November 19, 2013
Comparing Power in ‘The Tempest’ and ‘Othello’

Both plays are about the ultimate struggle for power. Power can be shown in many ways such as race, gender, ‘others’, social class, and most importantly through use of language. Power can be shown in both plays through the use of ‘otherness’. This can be associated with power as characters such as Othello or Caliban are ‘others’ because they are from ‘elsewhere’. One such character who could be described as an ‘other’ is Othello. Bill Bryson suggested that ‘before he reworked it ‘Othello’ was insipid melodrama’ and perhaps it was the addition of ‘others’ by Shakespeare that added to the drama. Characters such as Othello and Caliban were considered dangerous and unnatural because they were foreign. In the Elizabethan times, these were the characters that the audience would have wanted to have a bleak ending. Especially people of a higher class, such as James I, would have enjoyed and found amusing how the people of a lower class or the ‘others’, people in context and relation with them, who in their lives may symbolise a threat, die in the play.

Caliban can be compared to Othello in the way that they are both the “noble savages” in each of the plays. Othello’s extreme thoughts provoked by Iago and consequential imaginings cause him to doubt Desdemona. The contemporary audience would have found this fascinating, as they would have seen how a person of a different ethnicity, such as Othello, felt towards a different social hierachy. With both characters there are comparisons, Caliban is savaged and deformed; Othello is black, which in the 16th Century was seen as essentially deformed and different to the ‘normal’ white person, in addition they are easily fooled by deception, as expected by the contemporary audience. Trinculo, Stephano and Iago have their evil intentions and conspiracies to gain power by deceiving others to believe in them fully. Caliban, a half human and half beast, is easily fooled by the two men, the derivatives of a higher civilization. Similar to how Othello is deceived by Iago. Iago’ use of power through language can have a significant impact on the audience, for example in Act 2, Scene 3, he shouts, “Divinity of Hell!”. However, it is Iago who is the divinity of hell, the devil incarnate; it is his facades of honesty, subtle powers of manipulation and personal control over Othello's life that encapsulate his evil ways. This is similar to how Hazlett argues “Prospero has a devilish ability to craft”. This demonstrates that Prospero and Iago have similar devilish qualities, this associates with power since the devil is controlling, potent and manipulative. Ironically, Prospero’s judgement of Caliban is “A devil, a born devil, on whose nature Nurture can never stick”, Shakespeare is showing Prospero to be sly and hypocritical, because in actual fact Prospero is the devilish character in the play, as Sebastian says “The devil speaks in him”.

Likewise in ‘The Tempest’, Trinculo and Stephano have plans to turn every situation into their own advantage, like how Iago tries to listen into every private conversation as possible, by doing this, they gain information, therefore gaining power. Caliban appears to the contemporary audience to be weak, foolish and narrow minded; however he is the one who speaks in blank verse and iambic pentameter. This illustrates Caliban’s use of complex and sophisticated language which can be seen in his lines. Another character in ‘Othello’ who possesses intellectual use of language is Iago. Here he’s saying that Iago is the person who causes all the trouble, the antagonist, and that without him, as an audience one could put the blame on Othello, the protagonist. Throughout the play Iago possesses the majority of the power. By using convincing, rhetoric and eloquent speech, Shakespeare reveals what a powerful-and dangerous tool language can be. However, the contemporary audience would believe that Othello...

Shakespeare, William, Othello, New Longman Edition, 2003
Shakespeare, William, The Tempest, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
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