The role of the supernatural in the Tempest

Topics: Magic, The Tempest, Black magic Pages: 8 (2756 words) Published: March 20, 2014
Katrina Hapner � PAGE �1� Professor Mendel LITR 313 December 21, 2013

The Role of the Supernatural in "The Tempest"

From the very start of Shakespeare's play, "The Tempest", magic is used to mesmerize the audience. The entire plot of this play is very reliant on the supernatural. Prospero, Ariel, and Caliban all have magical powers. Magic lets these characters, mainly Prospero, manipulate the other characters and make them do their bidding. Magic also maneuvers the plot, relationships, love and themes of the play. Magic is the motivation behind movement and plot development.

Throughout the entire play, magic is use to make a variety of things happen. Magic is the heart of "The Tempest" and controls things in the play. Shakespeare uses magic to create Prospero who seems a divine character. He is the main character and Shakespeare gives him power to interfere in things around him. Shakespeare wanted a happy ending and in order for this to happen the characters and events must be manipulated through magic. Prospero was the most powerful character due to magic and he led the relationship of Miranda and Ferdinand. Shakespeare's use of magic was felt throughout the island, but also throughout "The Tempest".

The supernatural aspects of "The Tempest" are very different from some of his other plays that involve magic like "A Midsummer Night's Dream" with the fairies, and "Macbeth" with the weird sister witches. The magic in "The Tempest" is more natural, not evil, and less whimsical. Because the magic is so much more natural, it follows the laws of nature in its entirety. Prospero's magic is white in nature and restricted by the nature of the island itself and the people who live there. "The Tempest" is not about dark evil magic, but instead a natural supernaturalism analyzed through magic.

It has been agreed by many that Shakespeare was taking a big risk with writing "The Tempest". It was well known at the time that King James I loathed any type of witchcraft or magic. He despised it so badly that there were actually laws made to punish people who might even be though to be into the supernatural. "Hatred of witchcraft became an obsession with James and those who mentioned magic in their writing treated it as unmitigated evil. _The Tempest_ was the exception, for in it we see that there can be good as well as bad magic" (Evans, 115).

John S. Mebane has a different take on magic during that same time period. Mebane said that magic was actually a symbol for the way of people thought of and wrote about human nature. People were discovering during this time that they had their own power over their environment and magic was a symbol of that belief. "Those who explored "natural magic" often asserted that the quest for truth should not be limited by traditional religious, political or intellectual authorities" (Mebane, 3). However, this is not completely the case in "The Tempest". The magic is not restricted by religious or political authority, but it is restricted by the motives and desires of the same.

While it cannot be claimed for sure to know what Shakespeare's intentions were with regard to the magic in "The Tempest", magic in general during that time period had the attraction of the forbidden and unknown. Because it was a play, it had much more exposure to more people and great drama (Mebane, 6). Throughout Europe there was a widespread belief in demons, witches and spirits during that time period and Shakespeare capitalized on this (Johnson, 7). He seems to be using the magic to make people think about the idea that the there may be spirits, who may be good or bad and for reasons no one knows, like to join in the daily lives of people. Characters like Ariel and Caliban are examples of this, who some believe represent air and earth. These characters have absolutely no reason to do what Prospero wants, but they appear to have to because Prospero somehow has power over the elements of the island.

Prospero was...


Cited: Bushnell, Nelson Sherwin. "Natural Supernaturalism in the Tempest." _Modern Language Association_ Sept. 1932: 684:698. Jstor. Web. 10 Dec. 2013//www.jstor.org/stable/457946>
Corfield, Cosmo. "Why Does Prospero Abjure His "Rough Magic?" _Shakespeare Quarterly_, Spring, 1985: 31-48. Jstor. Web. 10 Dec. 2013
Evans, Alfred John. _Shakespeare 's Magic Circle._ London: Barker, 1956. Print.
Forker, Charles R. _Fancy 's Images_. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Print.
Johnson, A.T. _Aspects of the Supernatural in Shakespearean Tragedy_. Memphis: Southwestern at Memphis, 1959. Print.
Mebane, John S. _Renaissance Magic and the Return of the Golden Age:_ _The Occult Tradition and Marlowe,_ _Jonson,_ _and Shakespeare_. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1989. Print.
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